They traded in spoons for an item that’s more readily found in a backpack: pens.
They also swapped the deck of cards for math equations.
“I think I got this,” said Malachi White as he assembled the pieces of paper in his hands and raised them to eye level.
White, and his soon-to-be UNLV freshmen classmates, quickly figured out the answers to the math problems before them, and then the search for those numbers began. White passed his first card to the right, creating a chain reaction in the small group.
A few seconds later, a hand reached for the first pen in the center of the table. And then just as quickly, they were all gone.
“Yeah!” White exclaimed. “Let’s keep playing.”
The modified game of spoons took place in an auditorium on UNLV’s campus as part of the university’s Summer Math Bridge program, a fast-track program that can keep students out of remedial math courses which cost time and money — and can even delay graduation.
“Advising centers on campus would tell you that math, and being able to pay for classes, are two common things that slow students down from graduating on time,” said Dan Gianoutsos, associate dean of the Academic Success Center (ASC) at UNLV. “So if you’re helping students to remove that math barrier, they will be much more likely to matriculate.”
As the Nevada System of Higher Education calculates ways to improve student success across its seven colleges, tackling the math problem has risen to the top.
But it’s also something that UNLV has been proactively working to solve over the past several years through initiatives like summer Math Bridge, and the results are encouraging.
Built for UNLV
When Math Bridge began in 2012, the “math problem” was emerging as a national concern, and UNLV knew it needed to be on the forefront.
“Back in 2012, there were other college programs out there, but there wasn’t one that stood out as the gold standard,” said Gianoutsos. “We utilized best practices, but also made our program unique according to our circumstances. It was built just for UNLV students.”
Since that time, the program has hosted an average of 260 students each year. Participants visit campus daily over a five- or eight-week period, and are given the opportunity to refresh their math skills by using an online, adaptive platform called ALEKS, with in-class tutorial support.
“I think it shows students’ self-motivation and determination because they’re opting into this program,” said Cheyenne Rogers, academic transitions coordinator for the ASC. “They’re willing to come and do math in the summer. It’s no small commitment.”
On the final day of each session, students take a math assessment, and advisers are on standby to help those who pass the placement exam enroll in credit-bearing math courses for the fall.
By the second week of this summer’s bridge program, incoming freshman Joey Rizk had already mastered over 100 math topics.
“Remedial math is like $700 a semester, and it doesn’t even give you a credit,” Rizk said. “Eventually, I was thinking to myself, I would much rather be in this free summer program for a month, rather than take remedial math.”
Since 2012, an average of 77 percent of students have placed into credit-bearing math classes through Math Bridge.
“It’s an awesome program with so many benefits,” said Kayla Wright, learning programs coordinator for the ASC. “Those who pass don’t have to take an extra semester to graduate, which results in less debt. They’re also more likely to be retained as well, because they don’t need to get over the extra obstacle of taking and passing a preparatory math class.”
Preparatory math courses — or “remedial” math classes, as they have been called in the past — don’t count toward major requirements or graduation. But students who need to take a preparatory course at the university’s Math Learning Center, will find the support that they need, and a new way of thinking about math remediation.