Remedial Math: The story of Hawkes

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 26th, 2017 at 4:37 PM

piece of scotch tape holds a freshly printed class schedule to the rough drywall next to room 114. Outside, students slowly close laptops and pull out ear buds.

The clock has completed its lap to 11 a.m., while the heavy beige doors of 114 have been thrown wide open. A chain of students file into the room.

As they walk past, the schedule flutters up and down, straining against the tape.

Inside, the students shuffle to numbered stations.

A handful to station 11. A group of six to station 10. One to station four. Chaos erupts for a quick second, notebooks hit wood, backpacks “zip!” open, fingers beat memorized log-ins into 20 keyboards, a computer mouse searches for and finds the links to the day’s work.

Overhead, six flat screens that run horizontally down the room whir to life.

As quickly as it starts, the chaos evaporates, leaving behind the sighs of computer towers and the soft footsteps of Dr. Corinne Schaeffer.

She directs the students’ attention towards the monitors, and quickly runs through the carefully laid out schedule. Class has begun.

This is the space where students who don’t “get math” end up.

According to the Academic Success Center, 46 percent of all incoming students end up here. Better known as the Hawkes Lab, Room 114 in the Baron-Forness Library is home to all of Edinboro’s remedial math classes.

This is the place where they battle through negative perceptions about math, through long hours relearning material that they can have trouble understanding, and through the possible frustration of certifications, pre-tests and post-tests.

The class set-up is very different from anything most have ever experienced before. 

That’s because the class is taught using an online program called Hawkes.

However, remedial math is not an online class. The Hawkes system allows students to work through “modules” of information — akin to chapters in a textbook, under the in-class direction of their math professor.

“The Hawkes system is a modular mastery approach to teaching math,” said Dr. Marc Sylvester, assistant chair of the math department and one of the eight professors who teaches remedial algebra this semester.

Students in Math 020 have to complete modules 1-6, and students in Math 090 have to complete modules 7-11. After completing the lessons that make up a module, which is usually about 3-5 lessons, students have to prove mastery in the concepts of the module by taking a certification test, which evaluates their knowledge of the topic.

“I really like the Hawkes system versus the math class that I took before,” said sophomore speech pathology major Kate Warren. “There are a lot of study resources and tools that are useful for studying.”

“We used to teach remedial math in a lecture format,” said Schaeffer. “I would have a list of topics that I needed to go through and a certain amount of time to go through it, so all the students in the class had to stay on the same pace, because there was no time to stop and go at a pace that was more beneficial to them. Of course, some students got it, but a lot of them didn’t, and if they failed the class they had to come in and go through the class all over again.”

Dr. Anne Quinn, math department chair, said, “We had a large number for students who were failing the class and having to take it again.”

She continued: “So some professors in the math department began to look for an alternative that would be more flexible and student-centered, and they went to conferences and came back with the idea of teaching the class in that format.”

Schaeffer is one of the math professors who, along with Dr. Melanie Baker, Dr. Douglas Puharic and Michelle McCarney, developed the current structure of remedial math.

“Now that we teach remedial math in this format (using the Hawkes system), students don’t have to keep taking the same class over again until they pass,” said Schaeffer. “They pick up right where they left off the semester before.”

The first thing you notice when you walk into the Hawkes lab is the accessibility of it. The classroom strikes a sharp contrast to the almost claustrophobic arrangement of most classrooms on campus.

Banks of computers are neatly arranged and numbered throughout the room, whiteboards are placed on the walls next to the computer banks that rest along the perimeter of the room, and whiteboards on wheels sit at the far end of the classroom; the black plastic swivel chairs are on wheels — the atmosphere promotes movement.

The walls hold large white plastic posters that break down the contents of each module, and blue fliers advertise prizes for students who catch glitches or mistakes within the Hawkes system. It’s easy to imagine students feeling comfortable opening up to professors and lab assistants.

“Honestly I know my remedial students better than the students in any of my other classes,” said Sylvester. “They always come up to me and ask questions and they’re usually the ones to come in to my office hours too. It gets a little crazy teaching 70 students, but I like it and we have fun.”

However some students have a hard time getting used to the format.

“I’ve been in remedial Math 020 for three semesters, and the hardest thing for me has been getting used to not having a professor constantly breathing down my neck, but I really like being able to pace my own self,” Warren said. 

She continued: “The professor that I had at first didn’t really care about whether or not I came to class or not, as long as I got through one module. The professor I have now isn’t constantly standing over me, but she does make sure that I’m on pace and attending every class.”

The flexibility of the class can sometimes be the downfall of students who aren’t used to having to be on top of their work.

“The work ethic is what gets a lot of students,” said Austin Porter, the Hawkes Ambassador and Math 020/090 tutor. “A lot of students just come to class and do work, but in a class like this you have to be willing to study outside of class too.”

Schaeffer echoed Porter’s sentiments, stating, “I tell my students that they have to prioritize this class just as much as the class where they have a final.”

Mindset is also a harsh enemy of tutors and professors alike: “The mindset about math being hard and difficult to understand is the hardest thing to get through,” said Math 020/090 tutor Hailee Lewis. “Once students get past that, it’s a little easier to get them to work at what they need help with.”

Of the students that pass remediation, 96.5% went on to pass Math 104 (A -D-) on their first. 83% passed with grades from an A to C-. tryThe clock hits 11:50 a.m., and chaos is welcome again. Binder prongs snap firmly shut. Notebooks release sighs, as they are slammed shut. Backpacks “zip!” closed. A few students loiter around Schaeffer’s desk, but most float out on the music playing in their ears.

A backpack scrapes the rough drywall that the class schedule is attached to, and the scotch tape gives. The schedule hangs in the air for a second before fluttering to the rough library carpet.

Class is over.

Shayma Musa can be reached at eupnews. 

Tags: math, remedial

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