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BTVI addresses math crisis

Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) officials tackled the “math crisis” head on recently during its recent math fest, which featured a week of math awareness activities with the introduction of ALEKS, a web-based artificially intelligent assessment and learning system that allows instructors to create lessons based on their course outline.

On a student’s initial log in, they are given a knowledge test to assess what topics they have mastered, and what topics they need to work on. Based on the results, ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces) creates a personal learning plan that teaches and assesses students’ mastery of content and skills. The system also regularly tests and retests the same skills to ensure students retain knowledge.

“There is a crisis in Math,” said Archilene O’Brien, chair of math at BTVI. “All of us do not need calculus, but we need fundamental math. We need to integrate math with each trade area so it becomes valuable. You think you’re doing separate courses, but you need to apply it … connect what is happening in the trade area with what you are doing in math.”

According to BTVI officials in spring 2018, BTVI students’ college algebra rate improved by 12.6 percent, and students dropping math classes were at an all-time low of six percent.

O’Brien will present a paper on the success of ALEKS at BTVI during the fourth international conference on technical vocational education and training (TVET), slated for May 22-24 in Jamaica.

She said access to opportunities might not become a reality without at least grasping basic math.

“Although you want to study psychology, arts or the humanities, you need the fundamentals of math. We are in a global village. Your competition is not the person living off East Street or who went to high school with you. Your competition is global, so when we stress you with ALEKS it is because we care,” she said.

According to O’Brien, the math performance of each student working on the program improves, and there is reportedly less classroom frustration as students become independent learners.

“The extent of your improvement is directly related to how much time you spend on it,” she said.

Dr. Robert W. Robertson, BTVI president, said math is a phobia for many people, therefore the recent math awareness week was a step in the right direction and particularly the introduction of ALEKS.

“Ms. O’Brien being able to present a paper at an international TVET conference is based on the good results we’re getting here at BTVI. Math is a fundamental skill for all trades, whether cosmetology or electronics. All of the jobs of the future, you would need basic math skills. The more you know, the better off you’d be,” said Robertson.

Kevin Basden, BTVI board chairman, said the math awareness week was a great initiative.

“Math has a special place in my heart. It has been my favorite subject from pre-school to college. It is not difficult – it’s just a matter of understanding the concepts. TVET includes measurement and angles; math is here in everyday life,” said Basden.

He said there needs to be a paradigm shift in people’s thinking about math, particularly as it is used in everyday life.

Ron Clarke, BTVI instructor, has credited ALEKS for changing his students’ attitudes towards math and making it easier for him to focus on those who need special attention.

“I have been teaching math at BTVI for the past eight years and ALEKS is the best program that has ever happened to us,” said Clarke. “In ALEKS, I can see every mistake the students make and how many times they’ve made it. So, I can then go and give individual attention to students with problems – so everybody moves at their own pace. Students love technology. They can get on to ALEKS from their smartphones or tablets and sit around campus and just practice math,” he said.

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