Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year
Rosemary M. Karr
Professor of Mathematics
Collin County Community College
Fifteen years into teaching upper level mathematics, I realized that student success in math begins at the remedial level. That insight came to me after I left a tenured position at Eastern Kentucky University and began teaching at a two-year college in Texas. With my new awareness, I felt drawn to developmental mathematics, an integrated, instructional approach designed to minimize students' unfounded fears of mathematics.
I observed that developmental education empowers students, bolsters their self-confidence, and provides the strong foundation they need to do well in credit classes. Through teaching it, I uncovered a key to academic excellence. I also found my true passion in teaching.
My research led me to expand the developmental mathematics curriculum by creating Passport, a holistic approach that engages students through cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains. I have integrated gaming techniques in my classes, applied real-world situations to mathematical equations and implemented technology in the mathematics classroom. Research comparing student achievement in the Passport approach compared to a standard lecture format shows its success. Passport students achieved 15 percent higher success rates in beginning algebra, and a full 51 percent more went on to pass subsequent college-level mathematics courses compared to students enrolled in standard courses.
I've seen more students entering mathematics and science related careers. And in an unanticipated and pleasing outcome, I've seen an increase in the mathematics scores achieved by minority and female students, several of whom have graduated and entered math-related fields.
Students in the Passport program also learn a thing or two about service learning. Each participant is required to tutor 15 hours during the semester, write a reflective journal entry for each tutoring session and write a reflective paper at the end of the semester. Most choose to tutor at a local Title I middle school serving disadvantaged students. Upon completing their service, students frequently declare it their best learning experience at Collin College.
Most important to me, however, is my interaction with students. When they ask, "What good is this math stuff, anyway?" I answer with a portrait of mathematics applied to real-world topics like medicine and space exploration. I lead discussions with questions such as: "Did you know the shape of a pill affects how quickly it dissolves in your system?" or "Did you know that NASA and Lockheed Martin did not communicate units, resulting in the loss of a $125 million spacecraft?" I draw graphs on the board and then act as a human vertical line test to determine functions. I create images of chocolate shells stuffed with various items to demonstrate composition of functions. Students laugh ... but they remember.
When students become fluent in the language of mathematics and comprehend how to apply and use mathematical tools, they strengthen the critical thinking skills needed for success in today's complex world. The opportunity I have-to reach a diverse population of students and alleviate their fear of mathematics while bringing alive their desire to achieve-this is why I teach. My colleagues who have also chosen teaching as a profession understand completely when I say, "My head is in mathematics while my heart is in teaching."
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