Math Intervention: Cross-Curricular Faculty Collaboration

I had the pleasure of working with Los Angeles Mission College biological science lead faculty member Dr. Par Mohammadian to design a cross-curricular faculty collaboration intervention that is tied to research questions that directly address an acute problem at the campus: The majority of incoming biological sciences majors are placed in college algebra and trigonometry with less than 10% reaching calculus courses and about 5% transferring to a four-year university.

Built on the research and positive results from Modeling Life: The Mathematics of Biological Systems (2017) by Garfinkel et al., the college biology and math faculty, in collaboration with UCLA math faculty, will create supplemental materials in college algebra and trigonometry for biology majors that will be leveraged in weekly academic success workshops.

Garinkel et al. (2018) created a similar intervention but with a focus on calculus and biology, and with a four-year university population. Los Angeles Mission College will focus on college algebra and trigonometry with a population of at-risk, high-poverty, underrepresented students with low success rates in biological sciences. Delivered by a supplemental instruction coach (i.e., student tutor), supplemental material includes problem sets that help students with quantitative reasoning. This is a college algebra example.

High concentrations of carbon monoxide CO can cause coma and possible death. The time required for a person to reach a COHb level capable of causing a coma can be approximated by the quadratic model T = .0002x^2 - .316x + 127.9, where T is the exposure time in hours necessary to reach this level and 500 ≤ x ≤ 800 is the amount of carbon monoxide present in the air in parts per million (ppm). a) What is the exposure time when x = 730? b) Estimate the concentration of CO necessary to produce a coma in 5 hr.

According to Garfinkel et al., more relevant instruction for students includes a greater emphasis on concepts. With a significant use of real examples from, and applications to, biology students will learn biology in engaging ways in order to increase student success and persistence in college algebra and trigonometry. Math and biology faculty will collaborate to implement three steps described below. Faculty will train and mentor supplemental instruction coaches to deliver the academic success workshops and work with institutional research to collect and analyze student workshop evaluations.

General Steps:
Step 1: Faculty review topics for Biology I & II (first-year biology), College Algebra and Trigonometry as sequenced by course syllabus.
Step 2: Cross-curricular faculty collaborate to align biology course topics with relevant college algebra & trigonometry concepts.
Step 3: Supplemental materials prepared in time for workshop implementation. Two workshops (one for college algebra and one for trigonometry with calculation problems related to biology) will be held twice a week for at least two hours.

Academic success workshops are a small community of students working collaboratively to master course material with the guidance of a facilitator (e.g., supplemental instruction coach). As a well-established and researched intervention, supplemental instruction has produced student gains at many institutions of higher education (Meling, 2013; Rabitoy, 2015). For this intervention, the skill set of supplemental instruction coaches will be leveraged in a different setting: workshops that are designed and informed by the supplemental materials created by cross-curricular faculty to give students the opportunity to enhance their learning experience.

Moving the needle on student success in STEM can be a challenge. What I especially appreciate about this intervention is the cross-curricular faculty collaboration aspect of it. Too often faculty are (and feel) siloed. Collaborating across disciplines promotes a healthy culture and learning experiences for both faculty and students. I’ll be writing about the results of the intervention in the future. For now, I hope the concept described sparks discussion on how to best collaborate to increase student success.


I helped to secure NSF HSI funds in 2018 for this project. Los Angeles Mission College was 1 of only 5 community colleges awarded.

If interested in pre and/or post-award support, use the contact form to the right of the page.
Pre-award: grant writing, project design, facilitation, editing
Post-award: grant evaluation, project director/principal investigator coaching


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