Prof. Bogart tries new math teaching style

by Karla Kingsley | 11/5/01 6:00am

Fall term is half over, and it's almost time to register for winter classes already. Students signing up for Math 28, Introduction to Combinatorics, are in for a surprise.

Professor Kenneth Bogart has developed a new method of teaching the curricula, and these students will be the first to use it in this course. The class will differ from traditional math classes because in place of a lecture situation, students will learn material by working through problems.

Bogart developed a series of problems that the students will work through, combined with a small amount of prose, for explanation.

"[In this course] the problems lead through the material, and students are led to discover on their own," Bogart explained.

One goal of the method is for students to actually "get it" and learn the material instead of just plugging in numbers and not understanding.

The course is composed of 200 problems, written by Bogart, but not all are necessarily used. Bogart says that students have a lot freedom in the course.

"The only instruction will be the questions ... students control how the course operates," he said.

As untraditional as it is, the new course will still have the dreaded exams. "We still need to measure how much is being learned," Bogart stated.

According to many students on campus, math can be hard to follow or just plain boring. Bogart's method also addresses this problem.

"When I lecture, [in traditional classes] there are always students who can't follow and always some that are bored. It is hard to concentrate on listening for more than 10 or 15 minutes," Bogart said. The problems of the new method allow students to interact, working in groups, and learn at their own pace.

Bogart has received a grant from the National Science Foundation for development and testing of materials at Dartmouth and seven other schools across the country, including Wesleyan University, Marietta College in Ohio, and Illinois Institute of Technology.

"The specific schools were selected with the goal of observing a broad cross section of all kinds of colleges and universities," Bogart said, pointing out the differences between Marietta, a small, regional, liberal arts school, and University of Minnesota, a large, public, state school.

Starting next semester, students at these other schools will be taught using Bogart's method and will be compared to students in other more traditional math courses.

Bogart said there are plans in the future to devise a course for "future high school teachers, to give better understanding of the material."