Needed Math for Entry-Level Technicians

What is Needed Math (for entry-level technicians)?

A common barrier for post-secondary technical education programs is the mathematics skills and knowledge of entering students. Related issues that must be triangulated with incoming students’ math levels are (1) college degree mathematics requirements; (2) specific math needed to support the technical program content; (3) the content and length of the courses in which the needed math is typically covered; and (4) restrictions on the length of the degree or certificate program.

Over the holiday weekend last month, approximately 60 secondary and post-secondary educators, industry representatives and mathematics education experts convened in Baltimore for an intense three days defining the issues, specific math skills and knowledge, what is needed for student success.  This gathering was coordinated by a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF ATE) funded conference grant (DUE #1737946) award to Hofstra University. The goal of the project is to define the current needed mathematics for technician education programs in three advanced technology domains: Advanced Manufacturing, Biotechnology and Information Technology. A steering committee with education and industry representatives met to define and invite appropriate attendees, the overarching needs, the working sessions and group goals and objectives and overall conference agenda.  FLATE is representing the Advanced Manufacturing domain for education on this committee. 

During the conference, participants worked in domain groups (industry sectors); affinity groups (educators, industry representative, mathematics education experts); and whole group activities.  The conference also heard from an industry panel about their company and sector technician talent needs and what they predict their future needs will be. The external evaluator, research associate and technical writer also participated in the full conference and steering committee to help keep the group focused on the goals and objectives and to observe and participate in the various working groups. 

Both the individual energy and enthusiasm for the work being done was honest, sincere and pervasive. Industry representatives were very engaged and made special note that they were happy to be included to share their personal and industry sector technician education needs. They were also very interested in learning more about the formalities of the education system with respect to defined courses and course content, degrees and degree structure, and the hierarchies of content.

The conference project leadership and steering committee are working through the 50+ flip chart pages; sample problem templates, participant feedback and afterthoughts, notes and recordings So what were some of the first “take-aways” from the conference? Here are few!
·     Math is still a barrier for some students but it can be overcome
·     We think we know what math is needed for entry level technicians in the 3 disciplines
·     We are not sure how and where to teach this needed math within the educational system
·     Technical program faculty are very willing to teach needed math in context
·     Partnerships between math and technician educators and industry should be encouraged
·     It’s unclear that technicians need any “whole courses” beyond college algebra
·     Industry is very interested in workforce education and participating in this conversation
·     Workplace applications of basic math are complex and consequential
·     Gaps between what is taught and what is needed should be defined


Answers to some of these questions could cause technician educators to change what and how they teach and impact the formalized mathematics education courses and frameworks.  All of this is important to our Florida Engineering Technology degree as well as other technician education programs in our state.  There is certainly a balance of educating technicians so they are “ready to work”, the time investment of the education process, the level of theory and background needed for straight forward mathematics operations that are well defined and used repeatedly.  The steering committee is continuing its work to compile the information gathered and propose recommendations and possible strategies.  A white paper/conference proceedings document will be published and will be available in early June.  For more information about the project, participants, resources and workshop, please visit the Needed Math website: www.neededmath.org or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger (barger@fl-ate.org) .