What Math is Needed for Advanced Technology Technicians?

Over the past two years, FLATE participated on the steering committee of a special project funded by NSF ATE focused on defining the issues around the barrier that math plays in advanced technological education technician programs across the country.  What math skills are essential?  Where are they or should they be taught? How can we enrich the student experience with more workplace scenarios? In this time of a serious and growing skills gap, reducing all barriers for technician education should be a priority for educators and industry. 

 Employers, instructors of technical subjects, and mathematics educators who participated in a three-day conference on January 12-15, 2018, concluded that students’ mathematical competence should be strengthened by enhancing their ability to solve problems found in real-world contexts. The Needed Math Conference, supported by the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program of the National Science Foundation (Grant number: 1737946), focused on bringing to light how mathematics education might better reflect the concepts and skills that are prerequisites for postsecondary education technical programs and for successful employment as entry-level technicians in STEM-related fields, as well as in many other occupations. Adding contextual relevance can demonstrate the utility and beauty of the mathematics students learn. Students who have this experience of studying mathematics in real-world contexts will have a firmer basis on which to build more advanced concepts.

The conference proceedings highlight several findings and recommendations.  The team is continuing the conversation and defining some possible next steps. The message from employers was clear: they need their new technicians to have specific math skills and they don’t know or care what course those skills are acquired.
Below are the recommendations and a poster file summarizing the project and conference.

Recommendation 1. Place greater emphasis on contextualized math instruction at all grade levels and in all mathematics courses.

Recommendation 2. Make a shift in emphasis in the assessments that students must take.
Recommendation 3. In all mathematics courses, increase the focus on topics, approaches, and pedagogy that better reflect the demands of the contemporary workplace.
Recommendation 4. The current mathematics-for-all curriculum and assessment framework should be augmented by establishing a separate mathematically rigorous pathway based on solving realistic problems representative of those that many students will encounter after they leave school.
Recommendation 5. Create a Needed Math Center charged with expanding the reach of the conference findings to additional stakeholders, holding follow-on conferences on relevant topics, publishing articles aimed at a wide variety of audiences.

The conference proceedings, recently published, is now available in both an online version and as a downloadable PDF file on the project website:  www.neededmath.org.  For any questions or comments, contact Dr. Barger (Barger@fl-ate.org) or Michael Hacker (Michael.hacker@hofstra.edu).

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