Apprenticeship in Teaching

Math Modeling

Engelhard Faculty Project

The added benefit is that a few students who have had serious problems were able to get help.

Jim Sandefur

Jim Sandefur (Mathematics) originally joined the Engelhard Project in 2005 seeking a way to boost student engagement in his math classes. Because most of his students represented non-math majors, the idea of infusing his curriculum with wellness issues that would resonate with his students on a personal level was an appealing one.

Since joining the project, Professor Sandefur has experimented with using math modeling to explain the effects of eating disorders, gambling, and the elimination of alcohol from the body to make his classes more accessible on a personal level for his students. And by meeting with campus health staff, Sandefur said he was able to better understand the issues he was modeling and add a means for students to personally connect to the topic.

As a result, Sandefur has consistently noticed that his students not only understand the math better, but enjoy it more. By showing students very applicable, very concrete ways they could use the math skills they learned, the course became one which extended beyond the classroom walls into the students' personal lives.

Sandefur has also noticed that the curriculum infusion model of the Engelhard Project improved his students' overall well-being. He explains that when students arrive at Georgetown, they are inundated with sessions about avoiding eating disorders and alcohol problems during freshmen orientation, but a barrage of information actually seems to have the opposite effect as intended with students absorbing very little. "Students actually knew very little about things like alcohol's interactions in the body," said Sandefur.

By infusing wellness issues into the mathematical content of the course, and bringing in help from campus health professionals, students are not only better retaining information about these wellness issues, but also using this information to make better decisions. "The added benefit is that a few students who have had serious problems were able to get help," Sandefur said. "But even more importantly, for the majority of the students, especially with the alcohol unit, the class made them think more about potentially dangerous problems. One student said to me, 'well, I don't sit there and calculate exactly how much alcohol I have drunk, but I now I keep count.' And that's great, because it is a sign that they are thinking about themselves in a new way."