Peer tutors for math skills and science major retention
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Peer Tutors for Math Skills and Science Major Retention. Dr. Barbara Reitsma, Assistant Director Math and Science Skills Center, Kenyon College Presented at Enriching the Academic Experience of College Students Science Learning Center, U. Michigan, May 22-24, 2007.

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Peer Tutors for Math Skills and Science Major Retention

Dr. Barbara Reitsma, Assistant Director

Math and Science Skills Center, Kenyon CollegePresented at Enriching the Academic Experience

of College Students Science Learning Center, U. Michigan, May 22-24, 2007

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Math and Science Skills Center

  • Funded by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant for retention and recruitment in the sciences

  • Opened Fall 2004

  • “Science/Math equivalent” of the Writing Center

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  • to build basic math literacy in all students

  • to increase retention of science majors by improving performance in math-intensive introductory courses

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Math Literacy

  • Kenyon’s Quantitative Reasoning (QR) requirement

  • Quantitative-reasoning courses may focus on the organization, analysis, and implementation of numerical and graphical data; or they may involve learning mathematical ideas, understanding their application to the world, and employing them to solve problems.

  • Although the subject matter of QR courses will vary by department and discipline, the quantitative knowledge and skills developed will be applicable in a wide variety of settings.

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Science Majors

  • Some students enter Kenyon with weak math background

  • Ability in math directly correlates to success in the sciences

  • Desire to give entering students support and encouragement during first science courses

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Structure of Center

  • Walk-in clinic

  • Open five 2-hour sessions throughout the week

  • Supervised peer-tutors

  • Easily accessible room in the Science Quad

  • Variety of resources available

  • Informal, friendly atmosphere

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Why students come to the MSSC

  • Help with homework problems

  • Check answers

  • Questions from past exams

  • Concept clarification

  • Pre-lab questions

  • Lab report calculations and writing

  • Extra problem practice

  • Group assignments

  • Computer use (assigned work and other)

  • To study for quizzes and exams

  • Assistance writing papers

  • Use of reference materials

  • Review missed questions on exams

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Success of the Center

  • Cooperation of course instructors

  • Quality of peer-tutors

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Course Instructors

  • Feature MSSC in syllabus and course website

  • Encourage student attendance

  • Communication with center director

  • Provide answer keys to problem sets, quizzes and exams

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Job Description

  • Guides students in problem-solving questions from lecture and laboratory courses. Attends tutor training and staff meetings. Other duties as assigned by Director.

  • Sophomore standing. Superior performance in two related 100 or 200 level science courses. Excellent quantitative reasoning and communication skills. Recommendation by course instructor. Familiarity with Kenyon’s computer network, Microsoft Word and Excel.

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Peer Tutors

  • Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors

  • Majors:

    • Biochemistry/Dance minor

    • Biochemistry

    • Mathematics/Economics

    • Chemistry

    • English (pre-med)

    • Chemistry/Physics minor

    • Molecular Biology/Anthropology (pre-med)

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Tutor Training

  • Three hours each fall

  • Learning styles

  • Theories of intelligence

  • Question-asking skills

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Staff meetings mid-semester

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Benefits to Tutors

  • learning teaching (questioning/explaining) skills

  • review/reinforcement of material learned

  • identifying/filling in gaps in learning

  • experience for resumes and applications

  • stronger core knowledge helps in upper level courses

  • develop communication skills, people skills, and relationships

  • increased confidence in knowledge possessed

  • income

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  • Very hard to show effect of center

    • Data collection

    • Number of variables

  • Statistics by Program Evaluator

  • Biology in Science Fiction

  • Solar Energy

  • Biophysical/Medicinal Chemistry

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Statistics by Program Evaluator

  • Student surveys from 4 classes from AY 2005-6

  • Correlation of grade received with frequency of visits to the center

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Student Survey

*mean value significantly different from neutral value of ‘3’ p<.005

Q1 – Helped learn? Q2 – Course interest; Q3 – Improve Grade? Q4 – Feel involved? Q5 – Encouraged major?

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Survey Results by Class and Question

Q1 – Helped learn? Q2 – Course interest; Q3 – Improve Grade?

Q4 – Feel involved? Q5 – Encouraged major?

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Center Visits and Class Grades

** p<.01

r relates number of visits to Center in the semester to semester course grade;

partial r controls for Math SAT in the relationship between visits and grade

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Biology in Science Fiction (Non-major QR course)

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Solar Energy(Non-Major QR Course)

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  • Serving only chemistry students

  • Resistance from other departments

  • Don’t see all the students who could benefit

  • Laboratory courses

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  • Large amount of help requested for laboratory courses

  • Attendance varies widely

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  • Increase in attendance

  • Variety of uses

  • Repeat visitors

  • Mentioned in campus tours

  • Website

  • Students use center for multiple classes

    • Dance physiology; anthropology; math; biology

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Math and Science Skills Web Site


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Into the Science Quad Workshops

  • The Quad Workshop at Kenyon College is inspired by the successful Gateway Science Workshops at Northwestern University.

  • Northwestern’s program is modeled after Uri Treisman’s retention program at Berkeley.

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Gateway Science Workshops

  • Student Goals

    • Improve overall student performance

    • Increase student retention within individual course sequences

    • Increase STEM* majors and students entering science related careers

  • Particularly for underrepresented groups

    * Science, technology, engineering and mathematics

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Quad Workshops

  • A pilot program offered during the spring semester of 2007 available to students in the Biophysical/Medicinal Chemistry course (Chemistry 124).

  • Biweekly workshops in which small groups of students work as a team on challenging, interesting and conceptually-based problems that are relevant to the course curriculum.

  • Workshops meet six times during the semester for 1-1.5 hours.

  • Led by a peer facilitator who successfully completed this course last academic year. Questions for discussion are prepared by the course instructor.

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Why would I want to participate?(How we presented it to the students)

  • Better grades: Programs of this kind at other institutions have been shown to improve student performance and experience. This is NOT a remedial program.

  • Better learning: Research has shown that group problem-solving such as will be found in the Science Quad Workshops enables students to learn the subject matter more thoroughly and at a higher level of learning.

  • Ownership of subject matter: Anyone who has struggled with difficult subject material or challenging problems gains not only a better grasp of the material, but also confidence in their abilities to continue and excel in that area.

  • Monetary benefits: Understanding that your time is valuable, a stipend of $75 will be provided to each student who participates in all the workshop sessions.

  • Experience: Being involved in the initial stage of this project will look great on a resume!

  • You have to study anyway: Many students find that group studying is more effective than studying alone. And it’s more fun!

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  • Two sections, eight students per section, worked in groups of four

  • Students were paid for their time

  • Problems posed were related to the course, but not specific course content

  • Students were given different roles to play (leader, scribe, encourager, discourager)

  • Sessions met Tuesdays at 8 AM and 9:30 AM

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First Quad Exercise

  • This Quad Session is divided into two parts:

  • Part A:

    • Learn how to identify pairs of optical isomers

    • Use experimental data to derive an equation that relates the variables that govern the rotation of plane polarized light by an optical isomer

  • Part B:

    • Use experimental data to derive an equation that describes the optical rotation of mixtures of optical isomers

    • Apply your knowledge to determine the composition of mixtures of optical isomers.

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Part AI. Identification of Optical Isomers:

  • Optical isomers possess an asymmetric center (or center of chirality). The most common type of asymmetric center is a tetrahedral carbon bound to four different groups. A molecule with one such carbon will lack an internal plane of symmetry and is termed chiral. A molecule that does contain an internal mirror plane is termed achiral and is never optically active.

  • Question 1

  • Examples of a few chiral and achiral molecules are given below (Figure 1). Build a model of each molecule, complete with hydrogen atoms, and classify each one as chiral or achiral. Draw an accurate picture of each molecule, including hydrogen atoms, that clearly illustrates the internal mirror plane if one exists. It is important to remember that rotation around single carbon-carbon bonds is possible when looking for internal mirror planes.

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Figure 1. Some chiral and achiral molecules

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Figure 2. Pairs of molecules


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Summary of Concepts Developed in Session 1:

  • What is the defining feature of a chiral molecule?

  • Optically active solutions must contain…?

  • What are enantiomers?

  • What is a racemic mixture?

  • Optical purity describes…?

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Quad Workshop Results

  • Excellent attendance: one absence over entire semester

  • Actively engaged, enjoyed sessions

  • Preliminary Results: 9 out of 16 would repeat

  • Effect on grades?

    • 3 A+; 2 A; 1 A-; 5 B; 2 C+; 2 C; 1 D+

  • Student survey results

    • Many students wanted more tie-in to course

    • Weaker students did not keep up with group

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Future Plans

  • Still in pilot stage

  • Offer workshops in same course next spring

  • Four sections to be offered (up to 32 students could participate)

  • Target B/C students

  • Workshops will meet weekly for 12 sessions

  • Problems will be a 50/50 mixture of process oriented problems (POGIL) and challenging problems

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Future of the MSSC

  • Increase hours

  • Expand subject areas

    • Recent overture from Biology department

  • Offer Quad Workshops in other courses

  • Better service to laboratory students

  • Dream of a dedicated facility and office for the director