Algebra instructors at BYU-Idaho use real-life examples to aid their students in the learning process.

May 9, 2012
Writer: Spencer Allen, Junior, Communication

Upon first glance, college students standing on desktops and others balancing on chairs would cause even the most naïve of instructors to violently slap a ruler against a desk with disgust. However, with a desire to mold the minds of their students, BYU-Idaho instructors teaching college algebra stand back with delight.

Mathematical principles are brought to life as algebra instructors use everyday materials and scientific instruments to aid their classes. As students step off the chairs and desks with homemade pendulums in hand, learning becomes real. Students experience - not just read about - the effect lengths, speeds, and angles have on moving objects. Once the experiment is finished, instructors teach their students how to use math to analyze and make predictions about real-life situations. Real-life examples are now becoming the norm in teaching mathematical principles.

In 2008, the Department of Mathematics communicated with the Department of Chemistry in efforts to enhance the math course as well as prepare students for potential chemistry classes. The desire to change stemmed from students struggling to connect their algebraic understandings to chemistry. Taking a more hands-on laboratory approach, the course has revolutionized college algebra on campus.

"The way math instructors apply real-world situations is very fitting for students," said freshman Wilson Carter, a student currently enrolled in Math 110. "When I know I'm going to be using these math functions in the future, it provides more meaning and motivation to learn them now. My desire to learn has changed because I can see how it's going to apply."

BYU-Idaho's college algebra course is one-of-a-kind with instructors writing their own curriculum. "It's a shock for most students because it's not like a normal math class," shares Department of Mathematics chair Ann Marie Harmon. "They come in and think they're supposed to solve for 'x'. However, we just finished Unit 1 and we did not solve for 'x' - not even once."

Throughout the course students study how to model disease spread, the world's population growth, and a satellite's orbit, among other examples. "We're trying to show the students that you use math all over the place in real-world situations," Harmon said. Revolutionizing the course has created a stir beyond Rexburg. Last month the math department was accepted to present at a conference in Seoul, Korea. Nine instructors will make the trip this July and present the changes made to BYU- Idaho's college algebra curriculum and the results that have been measured. With time, other universities may adapt the teaching methods used at BYU-Idaho.