New Math Service Learning Course Facilitates Problem Solving

March 28, 2018

This semester, Kristina Anthony and Jeffrey Ledford, both instructors in the Mathematics Department in the College of Humanities and Sciences, are teaching a new service-learning class: Math 391, “The Art of Problem Solving.” The course is designed to engage undergraduate students in solving problems in mathematics similar to problems that are given on the Putnam Competition, an annual mathematics competition for undergraduate college students in the U.S. and Canada.

“This is the first service-learning course that either of us have taught,” Anthony said. “Problem solving and team work are important components in all STEM fields, and we both wanted to share these ideas with our community. Our goal is for students to learn to communicate mathematics to learners of all ages and to learn the importance of being part of the community.”

Anthony said that while she predominantly works in mathematics education, and Ledford focuses on applied mathematics, they found that their interests overlap. Ledford developed the Math 391 course two years ago at the same time Anthony was working with an area middle school to develop a MATHCOUNTS competition team. The competition helps middle school students build confidence and improve attitudes towards math and problem solving.  

“In conversation, we thought that it would be beneficial to have VCU mathematics majors working with the middle school students,” Anthony said.

Working with Communities in Schools at Binford Middle School, a weekly mathematics club is now offered to middle school students through the service-learning course. VCU undergraduates model and facilitate problem solving activities for the middle school students in the club. Middle school students in the club explore mathematics topics not generally taught in the normal school day, with the goal of being able to compete in the MATHCOUNTS competition this February.

As faculty newly engaged in service-learning, Anthony and Ledford received a Service-Learning Project Grant to be able to participate in the Mary and Frances Youth Center’s YPQI program, which is a quality improvement process for out-of-school-time service providers across the region.

“We wanted to make sure that we are providing an environment that actively engages students in the experience,” Anthony said. “YPQI will help us to think about the activities and how we engage the students (VCU and middle school). The process has already helped us ensure a safe environment that will encourage students to be leaders and collaborators.”

For more information, contact Anthony at anthonykc@vcu.edu.