I absolutely love the discussion forums in GCU’s online classrooms and I do believe that discussion in any class (even a math class) is paramount to the learning experience. This is an easy thing for me to say because I truly love mathematics and I truly love discussing it. Many of my students, however, have a very different outlook when it comes to discussing mathematics and they really don’t know where to even start sometimes.
I find this to be true, particularly in the 100 level courses and I often see posts that might say something like, "it sure is easier to do the math than explain it or discuss it." I have to admit, I can completely sympathize with those who feel this way because discussing mathematics is not something with which most students have much experience. The Classroom Policies document gives students some good guidelines and suggests that they incorporate personal experience and practical application in their responses to their classmates. Unfortunately, most students - most people in fact - don't have a lot of personal experience with logarithms or the quadratic formula, and they have never seen it actually applied in the real world. This is where I try to fill in the gaps.
When I see that a student is struggling so much with a concept that he/she really doesn't know where to go next with a discussion on it, or when I see that a student has a concept nailed so well that there really isn't much to say except, "good job," I try to enhance the discussion by pointing out interesting applications that they can read about in a newspaper or hear about on the radio. For example, in one class we were right in the middle of a discussion concerning logarithms which was an easy discussion for a few students and painful for most. It was that week that the terrible earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter Scale hit Japan. Because of the widespread news coverage everyone in class knew of this natural disaster and it led to an opportunity to discuss how the Richter Score scale for an earthquake is computed using logarithms. That in turn led us to talk about the Fujita Scale which is used for measuring the intensity of tornadoes which was very applicable to those students living in tornado prone areas.
Of course, we aren't always able to find a current event to bring into a mathematical discussion, and when this happens, we turn to history. Mathematics history is filled with drama, adventure, scandal, and interesting characters and most of the time in a traditional classroom there is not room in the curriculum to learn about the history behi nd the mathematics. Fro instance, in a geometry course there are many formulas to learn as we investigate things like finding the perimeters and areas of two dimensional geometric shapes. With these formulas it often seems like it is just a matter of plugging numbers into the correct formula and students might think, "What's to discuss?" They only think that because they have never heard of Georg Pick who, in the late 1800's, gave us an easy to use formula for finding the area of any polygon, no matter the shape. While this in itself may not pique the interest of students, they do pay attention when they find out that he was a Jewish man born in Vienna, Austria and he died alone in a concentration camp at the age of 83. Once their interest is piqued, they want to branch out from simple shapes and try Pick's formula for themselves. You can try it yourself also at http://www.cut-the-knot.org/ctk/Pick.shtml .
I think mathematics is a very exciting subject and I don't worry or get offended when students roll their eyes upon hearing this. I take it as a challenge to convince them that I'm right and I believe if they can sense that I'm passionate about what I am sharing with them, it will make that challenge easier.
Cynthia was born in Colorado and has lived there all of her life. Once all of her children were in school, Cynthia returned to college and earned her B.A. in mathematics from Adams State College. That was the beginning of her teaching career and she began teaching high school mathematics in Alamosa, CO.
After teaching for 7 years, Cynthia enrolled in an online graduate program where she earned a Master of Science degree in Mathematics from Texas A&M University. She became an online instructor for GCU in 2010 adn discovered she very much enjoyed teaching at the college level. She currently teaches mathematics courses at Adams State College in Colorado and she loves being at the college where she earned her first degree. She enjoys teaching courses of all levels for GCU and feels blessed that the Lord has given her this opportunity.