In this session, we will describe three initiatives in place in Atlantic Canada: the High School Math League, the Math Circles Outreach Program, and Combinatorics Institutes. The descriptions will be extended with suggestions for starting similar initiatives in other locations. The common thread in the these initiatives is that they bring together university and high school teachers and/or students in contexts that enrich the learning of mathematics and the professional development of all present. Insight into the history and scope of these activities will be offered.
The transition from high school to university is often a difficult one. Calculus failure rates are higher than they should be. A large contributing factor is that students often forget what they had learned in secondary school math. Other factors include changes in classroom environment, study habits and teaching methods. At the University of New Brunswick we are trying to address these issues. We have implemented a mathematics placement test that helps detect students who need help prior to entering the regular calculus course. We also offer a first year calculus course over two semesters instead of one. The Math Help Centre offers help to students struggling with math through its many programs. Successful Transformations is a three day math preparation workshop offered to students who will be taking a first year math course; we also offer numerous other workshops during the term, and other help sessions such as drop-in hours, private and group tutoring. These and other programs offered at UNB will be discussed along with some suggestions to what high school and universities can do to help these students succeed.
Graduating high school students tend to view mathematics as static and algorithmic. The subject is viewed as received dogma concerning a finite number of clearly defined problem types. New high school initiatives emphasize exploration, but it is not yet clear to what extent this will constitute conceptual exploration. A second problem for first year mathematics courses is the wide range of abilities lumped together by a high school evaluation system that differentiates primarily at a lower level of achievement. I will talk about some of the things I do to encourage students to view mathematics differently, and to accommodate the average student as well as the one who might feel underchallenged.
At the University of Regina we are addressing the transitional issue in two different ways. The first is through support to the current students as they arrive at the university. This includes a slower paced calculus course that covers one semester of calculus in two semesters, review sessions during the first two weeks of the semester, drop-in sessions for all first year courses and lab sections for the first two semesters of calculus. The second approach involves working with teachers, teacher educators and students and has the potential of a much more lasting outcome. This is done primarily through our Internet service Math Central and our Math Camp. Both of these initiatives function through a close relationship between the mathematicians in the Faculty of Science and the teacher educators and per-service teachers in the Faculty of Education.