Frequently Asked Questions – Problem-Based SMTH 120

Problem-based College Mathematics may be a different kind of course than others you have taken. The purpose of the course is **to develop your ability to think quantitatively**. You have already had many courses in *doing* math. In two years of high school algebra, you learned how to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers, expressions and functions. You learned how to factor polynomials, solve linear and quadratic equations, etc. So in this course, the primary focus is not on doing math, but on thinking. Our purpose – quantitative thinking – guides answers to these frequently asked questions.

1. Q: Why don’t you give us more examples and practice problems?

A: Examples are great for learning a skill. But that is not our purpose. We are not here to learn problem types. Nor are we here to learn mastery of techniques. Think about it. To master a technique is to learn to do it without thinking. We want to avoid "not thinking", so when we practice, we practice thinking, not doing.

2. Q: Why don’t you just tell us what to do?

A: See the response to #1. If I tell you what to do, I take away an opportunity for you to practice thinking. There is seldom only one way to solve a problem. Different people think in different ways. You are free to approach problems any way you wish, so long as your approach is logical.

3. Q: Why don’t you lecture on problems before you expect us to turn in a solution.

A: See the response to #2. One very important skill you need to develop is that of reading and understanding directions. That includes understanding the context in which directions are given. That’s why (one reason) my lectures on a given concept follow the first assignment on that concept.

4. Q: Why are we graded on problems we have not yet covered in class?

A: That question has two answers. First, remember, we are not learning specific ways to solve problems. You can pick, within the bounds of logic, the technique you want. Second, this class is designed to use formative assessment techniques. That means you are given feedback on your work while that work is underway so you can improve as you go along. Summative assessment (tests and the final exam) occurs after you have had a chance to learn the concepts. Individual formative assessment activities count much less toward your final grade.