Piedmont Community College; Roxboro, NC, USA

Project Title: MathSMART Crossroads - Where Math Intersects the World!

Principal Investigators: Lisa Cooley and Patricia Morgan

Department: General Education and Business Technology--Mathematics


Project Abstract:

Piedmont Community College math faculty will redesign an undergraduate course, MAT 115 Mathematical Models, to address student learning issues of math anxiety and real-world relevance. Overall evaluation focuses on course enrollment, retention, passing rates, and student perceptions.

Students will gain math competencies via six active-learning modules: Probability/Statistics, Finance, Voting Theory, Graph Theory, Modeling, and the Arts. Inside and outside the classroom, students will use HP tablet PCs to gather and analyze real-time data, access Internet search engines, use digital ink, and use applications software.

A summer outreach activity, "Catastrophic Failures," will bring 7th and 8th grade students to the college campus for a week of exploration in math, science, and engineering careers using wireless tablet PCs. PCC faculty will conduct the camp and a Senior Consulting Scientist Emeritus from a National Laboratory will present "Why Stuff Falls Apart" to the young audience.

Quick Facts

  • Courses Impacted: MAT 115: Mathematical Models
  • Number of Students Impacted: Approximately 200
  • Number of Faculty Involved: Three
  • Key Words:  Mathematics, Tablet PCs, Ubiquitous Presenter, Scribbler robots, GPS, HP iPaqs, MediaScape


Math students struggle with two long-standing teaching/learning issues: anxiety and relevance. A poll of current MAT 115 students reveals that 90% experience math anxiety. They struggle to see how the math they are doing in the classroom relates to the world around them. There is a disconnect between math to earn a grade and math to reason through practical problems.

Using HP wireless technology, we intend to reduce math anxiety and bridge the real-world gap through new lab activities that change the traditional lecture environment. Course redesign in MAT 115 transitions the course from instructor-driven, low-technology delivery to more student-centered, interactive experiences.

HP tablet PCs will help students become comfortable with technology as they discover just how relevant math is to them. Instructors, besides having the freedom to design activities that can extend beyond the classroom walls, will benefit from finally having a concrete answer to two often-asked student questions, “How will I use this?” and “Why should I care?”

This MathSMART Crossroads project is important to Piedmont Community College (PCC) students and instructors because it offers the technology and support needed to create a positive learning environment leading to improved student success. PCC math instructors are implementing teaching/learning recommendations from the AMATYC publication Beyond Crossroads: Implementing Mathematics Standards in the First Two Years of College, which is guiding this effort.

Implementation (pedagogy)

Redesign of MAT 115: Mathematical Models will focus on the lab portion of the course, heavily integrating the HP Tablet PC. Through active learning and investigation into real-life phenomena, change is possible--change in students' personal beliefs in their ability to do math and change in their perceptions regarding math relevance.

Currently, technology use in MAT 115 is limited to scientific calculators. In the course redesign, content will be packaged in six modules covering Probability/Statistics, Finance, Voting Theory, Graph Theory, Modeling, and the Arts. Each module will include at least one wireless, Tablet PC-based activity that requires use of search engines, digital ink, instant messaging, spreadsheet software, data analysis software, or presentation software. These student-centered activities will require students to use technology to find information, analyze it, use it to draw conclusions, and formulate reasonable responses to proposed problems.

Since "advances in technology influence both how mathematics is taught and what mathematics is taught" (AMATYC, Beyond Crossroads, 2006), this redesign transitions MAT 115 in a thoughtful, exciting, and high-tech way.

Technology Integration

Using HP Tablet PCs has reduced student passivity in the classroom by requiring students to be active participants using digital ink, gathering real-time data  and responding to real-time questions and problems. Instructors present active learning strategies in six modules covering Probability/Statistics, Finance, Voting Theory, Graph Theory, Modeling, and the Arts.

Activities have been designed that require the students to use the Tablet PCs to gather data, take notes, submit responses and complete interactive lessons.  For example, math students partnered with political science students to conduct a political attitudes survey.  The results were collected via "Survey Monkey".  The math students used the filtering capabilities of the "Survey Monkey" program to analyze the results and generated graphs of the data.  The political science students then took the math students' analyses and used them to guide political science classroom discussions. 

Ubiquitous Presenter is regularly used in the classroom to interact with students during the presentation of new material.  Students respond positively to the opportunity to participate in the lecture via the tablet.  The tablets help create a sense of community.  One student comments, "The (Tablet) PCs used in this math class have been a wonderful tool.  Being able to participate in the problems rather than only follow along on the screen has been a nice change.  The PCs are a useful tool that should be used in many other classes.  For many students, it is much more helpful to participate rather than listening alone."

Classroom activities now have students accessing the Internet to explore many of the topics covered in class.  For example, math in art, music and architecture is explored via applets, blogs and virtual museum websites.  The math behind global positioning systems is explored through interactive websites that demonstrate not only how GPS works but also allows students to use it to navigate with longitude and latitude information.  Manipulating finance applications helps students become aware of how much control they can gain over their personal finances, and with our average student age in the late twenties, math is suddenly "real." 

 Impact on Teaching

The overall project goal is to improve student success in mathematics by:

  • helping students deal with the anxiety they bring to a math classroom, and
  • helping students see the relevance of mathematics in their lives and the world around them.

In supporting the goals of the project, instructional practices have become more interactive.  Lectures are supported electronically through the use of Ubiquitous Presenter.  Student groups are expected to use the Internet to conduct research and to gather data to complete projects.  The tablets give students ownership of their learning, decreasing the distance between the math and their lives. 

The tablets give the students immediate access to current information, making classroom activities meaningful to the students.  Students in control of their learning generate an excitement for the concepts that we notice is lacking in non-tablet sections of other math courses.  As a result, instructors are finding ways to add similar real experiences to those sections.  Hybrid sections are now being offered in seven other math courses, allowing for activities that consciously incorporate the same kinds of skills and hands-on uses of technology that the MAT 115 students have embraced so wholeheartedly.

Impact on Student Learning

Math anxiety has decreased, and more students see the relevance of classroom math to the real world after taking redesigned MAT 115 classes using tablet PCs.

Two Years Ago (Spring 2007) - 90% of MAT 115 students reported experiencing math anxiety and 95% saw little relevance between classroom math and real-life applications.

Fall 2007 - MAT 115 students reported a highly significant difference (improvement) in their feelings about math in general, indicating a lessening of math anxiety.  Significant differences (improvements) were also noted in their attitudes toward using computers, calculators, the Internet, email and technical gadgets.  84% reported that the newly-designed activities successfully showed the relevance of math in everyday life.

Spring 2008 - MAT 115 students reported a highly significant difference (improvement) in their feelings about math in general and significant differences (improvement) in how they feel about using computers, calculators, the Internet, email and technical gadgets.  94% reported that the newly-designed activities successfully showed the relevance of math in everyday life.

Summer 2008 -

Math Camp!  Rising 8th and 9th graders from our community participated in a week-long camp, focusing on the relevance of math, computer science and engineering. 








    Materials Engineer, Dr. McIntyre R. Louthan, Jr. provided a
    keynote address "Why Stuff Falls Apart" and offered workshops
    on failure analysis.






Campers used the Tablet PCs to program Scribbler robots (http://www.parallax.com/tabid/455/Default.aspx) and then presented their routines on the last day of camp to family members and guests.





    HP iPaqs provided adventures in the Courtyard via
    Mediascapes (http://www.mscapers.com/).





Spring 2009 - MAT 115 students continue to report a highly significant difference (improvement) in their feelings about math in general and significant differences in their attitudes toward using computers, calculators and the Internet.  Interestingly, there was no significant difference detected in their feelings about email or using technical gadgets.  Perhaps this is reflecting a student body that is growing more technically savvy with time.  It will be an interesting trend to monitor in the future.  95% of the students reported that the activities used in class successfully related math to their everyday life. 

Into the Future - Based on our data, we feel we have a sound approach at relieving math anxiety in our MAT 115 class, through the use of the Tablet PCs.  Excitement continues to follow the Tablets and collaboration with colleagues in other disciplines will certainly continue to ensure the authenticity of the activities as we strive to show the interconnectedness of math with the world.

Contact Us

Lisa Cooley

Instructor, Mathematics
336.599.1181, ext. 421

Patricia Morgan

Instructor, Mathematics
336.599.1181, ext. 428

Wayne Cohan

Instructor, Polictical Science/History
336.599.1181, ext. 426

Dawn Langley

Dean, General Education and Business Technology
336.599.1181, ext. 422

References & Publications

Beyond Crossroads, Implementing Mathematics Standards in the First Two Years of College from the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges



This project supported in part by an HP Technology for Teaching grant.