Release Date: 
Thursday, May 9, 2019

Instructional Innovations: From developmental math to differential equations

Group shot of Math 288 class
Rama Chidambaram (front, center) gathers with her MATH 288 students.

Math faculty member Rama Chidambaram has good reason to be proud of the students in her Winter 2019 Differential Equations (MATH 288) class.

Of the 23 students in this class, only 10 of them started in college-level math classes (College Algebra or higher) at HFC.

The other 13 started in developmental math classes (Pre-Algebra, Beginning Algebra, Intermediate Algebra) at HFC. Developmental math is geared toward students who need a bit of extra help in the subject matter.

There's a perception that developmental math students don't go on to higher math. That perception has been proven wrong.

“As I was talking to my students, I realized that many of them started in a developmental math class and made it all the way through MATH 288 (Differential Equations). That means that they have successfully completed at least college Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and Calculus II. That is a remarkable achievement for these students,” said Chidambaram.

Many of the students will be moving on to four-year educational institutions such as the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Wayne State University in Detroit.

Juan Jesus Quezada: first-generation college student

Juan Jesus Quezada is not only a first generation college student, but is also the first in his family to graduate from high school. The Melvindale High School alumnus started at HFC with a beginning algebra class.

“Even though I started at a lower level, now I’m finishing differential equations,” said Quezada, who plans to transfer to Wayne State to study engineering. “I didn’t know I wanted to be an engineer until I surrounding myself with my friends who wanted to be engineers. So I thought, why not? Then I started to enjoy all the knowledge and critical thinking that comes with being an engineer.”

Danielle Wise: I wanted more for myself

“I didn’t do well in high school. I had no confidence in my abilities, and set low standards for myself,” said Danielle Wise.

That changed when she took college algebra.

“That class gave me confidence to keep going. It made me want even more for myself,” said Wise.

Wise just completed Differential Equations. She plans to transfer to UM-Dearborn to study engineering.

“It’s amazing how many good people are in this class,” said Wise. “I’ve made the dean’s list every semester that I’ve been at HFC.”

Ahmad Dakroub: a much better version of myself

Ahmad Dakroub went from a “dysfunctional student who squirmed at the idea of working hard” to a student who was willing to put in the time and hard work to succeed, despite the odds.

“I’ve come to realize – especially this semester – that nothing satisfying comes from accepting things the way they are. True satisfaction comes from breaking the mental barrier in your head that stops you from becoming a much greater version of yourself -- as I have done during my time at HFC,” said Dakroub. “It wasn’t until I took my first math class at HFC that I began to realize I was much more capable than I thought.”

The class that changed Dakroub’s perspective about math and college in general was Intermediate Algebra, taught by Anthony Julian.

“What separated that class from any other was that (Julian) prided himself on creating an interactive classroom where he would assess each student’s work, and then attempt to help them figure out what they didn't understand. So he didn't just throw information at us and expect us to pick everything up,” explained Dakroub. “That class led to my passion for mathematics. I would read up on math during my free time, and I began realizing just how essential math is in everyday life. Having a professor who cared about his students as much as he did propelled me to take the rest of my math classes at HFC.”

This fall, Dakroub plans to continue his education at UM-Dearborn, where he’ll major in electrical engineering.

Hazem Turaani: I would do it all again

Hazem “Fedora Man” Turaani, who aspires to a career in engineering, took Pre-Algebra in 2015 and finished with Differential Equations in 2019.

“Even though it took much longer than I wanted to complete my math requirements for the engineering program, I would do it all over again,” said Turaani. “Now, because of where I started, I have a deeper understanding of math. Everything makes perfect sense.”

Turaani says he learned a lot from Chidambaram and Jennifer LaRose. Chidambaram was his instructor for both Calculus II and Differential Equations. He graduated from HFC in May, and plans to continue his education this fall at U-M, where he’ll study engineering.

“The HFC math department is the best department I ever studied in. The teachers are really helpful and clear,” he said.

Career paths require math

If you want to be an engineer, you'll study a lot of math.

Interested in nursing? Math is important.

Want to be an auto mechanic, electrician, or a construction manager? Get friendly with math.

Most careers require at least some level of math. While many students see math as a daunting challenge, HFC instructors work hard to help them understand that they can master the math they need for their careers. Math skills are as important as ever. Moving students past the barriers to success is a core part of the HFC mission.

Doing something right

The majority of the Winter 2019 MATH 288 students rose through the ranks, taking developmental and college-level math classes together. They formed study groups and were very supportive of each other, becoming almost like a family.

“We’re obviously doing something right at the College if developmental students are completing Differential Equations,” said Chidambaram. “They beat the odds, and they beat them together. We had a diverse class – they came from different backgrounds, different socioeconomic statuses, different ages. This speaks volumes about our students and our College.”

Janice Gilliland, dean of the HFC School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), echoed Chidambaram’s sentiments.

“I am proud of the research on improving student success that is being done by the mathematics faculty at HFC,” she said. “They have developed curriculum in quantitative reasoning to serve non-STEM students. They have implemented co-requisite models in all three math pathways, which allow students who have tested at the development level to take college-level classes with a co-requisite support class."

"They have also implemented multiple measures for math placement. If the math faculty hear about something that will improve student learning, they are willing to determine whether it will work for our students,” she said.