Industrial engineering methods will get senior high school math students in proper ‘MINDSET’
October 30, 2007
Students who shudder at the mere mention of the word “calculus” may soon have a more exciting alternative as fourth-year math requirements are introduced into American high schools.
A $3 million National Science Foundation grant to researchers at North Carolina State University, Wayne State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte will fund development, testing and implementation of an innovative math curriculum, Mathematics Instruction using Decision Science and Engineering Tools (MINDSET). The program – borne in direct response to a call by universities and state departments of education to boost poor proficiency skills among American students – aims to enhance students’ math ability and motivation, especially in formulating and solving multi-step problems and interpreting results.
“The MINDSET approach enlists principles from industrial engineering and operations research, including probability and statistics,” said MINDSET co-creator Kenneth Chelst, chair of the Industrial Engineering Manufacturing Department at Wayne State University. “It stresses creative problem-solving and decision-making, enabling students to use mathematics to think analytically in the classroom as well as in everyday life.”
Dr. Robert Young, professor of industrial engineering at NC State and the principal investigator for the grant, adds that MINDSET aims to benefit both high school seniors who go straight into the workforce after high school as well as those preparing for college work.
The MINDSET curriculum presents hypothetical yet common engineering challenges in business to make math relevant and comprehensible to students. For example, challenging students to employ MINDSET principles might involve designing school bus routes, finding the best location for a new recreation center, calculating an appropriate automobile insurance policy deductible or evaluating ways to reduce wait lines for public restrooms.
“Making math relevant to students will improve their attitude toward it and make them better prepared when they enter the workforce – or the university,” Young says. He adds that industrial engineering departments enroll more underrepresented groups – minorities and females – than other engineering branches. In addition, mathematics-based decision-making tools are used in work related to social constructs, which research shows attract more underrepresented groups. As a result, Young says, the new 12th-year mathematics curriculum may increase the numbers of underrepresented groups in science and mathematics fields.
North Carolina and Michigan are leading the national trend requiring mathematics instruction to high school seniors. Both states are phasing in fourth-year mathematics requirements. North Carolina already requires a fourth year of mathematics for students attending any of the 16 University of North Carolina system schools.
In the project’s first two years, the researchers will develop the material – a textbook and curriculum – for the new course. In the third year, pilot testing of the class will occur in five schools in North Carolina and five in Michigan; testing will expand to 15 schools in each state in the fourth year of the project. In the fifth year, formal testing of the course and its curriculum will be done in a total of 50 North Carolina and Michigan high schools.
Schools in North Carolina’s two largest counties, Wake and Mecklenburg, will participate in the pilot and formal testing, as will schools in and around metropolitan Detroit. Along with the development of material, however, goes a recognition that teachers will also need to be trained to teach this new type of curriculum.
“We’ll build a support mechanism to train teachers to teach this material,” Young says. That includes both on-campus and online semester-long courses, summer workshops, and technical support during the school year to help teachers learn the industrial engineering and operations research material and teach it to 12th-graders.”
“Before MINDSET, pre-calculus, discrete mathematics and statistics were the only choices available. All had very few examples of direct immediate relevance to high school students,” said MINDSET co-creator Tom Edwards, associate professor of mathematics education at WSU. “Now students in Michigan and North Carolina will benefit from a more application-oriented math course.”
Dr. Karen Norwood, associate professor of mathematics education at NC State and a member of the MINDSET project team, says that teaching the application behind the mathematics makes more sense than teaching the skills before the application. Many students, she says, memorize the required skills but don’t understand how to apply them to real-world situations.
“Our high school students need a more solid background in mathematics,” Norwood says. “When you apply mathematics in real-life situations, you’ll understand it better and have a better attitude about the subject. We’re hoping that besides improving student attitudes toward mathematics, this program will be a trendsetter for other states.”