Teaching for PROWESS: Active Learning & Transformational Systemic Change in Community College Math

Karen Gaines
Project Director
American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges

NEED: The well-known PCAST report (Olson & Riordan, 2012) identified challenges students face on the postsecondary STEM pipeline, and specifically called out mathematics as the primary barrier preventing students from pursuing STEM degrees. Community college mathematics departments play a crucial role in supporting students on this pipeline. Our project partners with AMATYC, the primary mathematics organization for community colleges, to lead the way for supporting instructional transformation in mathematics in a project entitled Teaching for PROWESS (TfP).

GUIDING QUESTIONS: TfP has three research objectives: (1) understand how an instructor’s enactment of active learning support students’ success in mathematics in courses on the STEM pathway, (2) understand how two-year college mathematics instructors’ participation in a researcher-practitioner partnership leads to department-level change that supports student success; and (3) understand the role a professional organization plays in convening a community of two-year college mathematics departments and propagating a model to transform departments.

OUTCOMES: TfP is guided by four guiding principles of active learning in mathematics: instructional practices that promote students’ deep engagement in mathematical thinking; instructors’ interest in and use of student thinking; student-to-student interaction; and instructors’ attention to equitable and inclusive practices (Laursen & Rasmussen, 2019). The following are our project’s goals and current progress towards these goals:
Goal 1: Focusing on the student and instructional level, we aim to improve STEM learning environments at eight community colleges by transforming instructional strategies through promoting the guiding principles of active learning. Two Phase 1 mathematics departments are transforming mathematics courses on the STEM pathway to include active learning strategies known to lead to student learning and success. Measures of the impact of these changes have been developed and are being tested Spring 2022.
Goal 2: Focusing on the department level, we aim to stimulate iterative and sustained change by building capacity for evidence-based decision making.The Phase 1 mathematics departments are being supported by professional development focused on both active learning and strategies for department-level change. In collaboration with members of the Phase 1 college teams, a Vision and Change Catalyst Tool has been adapted from a previously-funded NSFproject to support departments in facilitating instructional change.
Goal 3: Focusing on knowledge generation, we aim to understand change by answering TfP’s Guiding Questions.

BROADER IMPACT: Working under the umbrella of AMATYC, collaboration and dissemination of findings and tools for change (interview protocols, observation rubrics, RPPs, Vision and Change Catalyst Tool) will be available to a wider audience. Greater use of evidence-based practices will increase success rates in the gateway STEM courses, such as College Algebra, Precalculus, and Calculus, as well as their pre-requisite courses, thus retaining more students in STEM programs. The use of equitable and inclusive practices will retain more under-represented students in STEM. Our research findings will lead to a framework for systemic transformation of two-year college mathematics departments that will progressively impact the workforce by providing quality workers equipped with 21st-century skills.


Ann Sitomer, Oregon State University, Corvalis, Oregon