# IMPACT Live!

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## IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

• #### 1.  IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

Posted 09-22-2021 07:59:00
Edited by Karen Gaines 09-22-2021 07:59:27
How do you explain the value of non-math skills in a math course to skeptics?
How have you grown as a faculty member in supporting students with soft/essential skills?

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Lisa Feinman
Project ACCCESS Coordinator
CC of Baltimore County
Catonsville MD
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• #### 2.  RE: IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

Posted 09-23-2021 11:25:00
Great question, Lisa!

I think we are constantly fighting a battle with public perceptions about mathematics. When the word 'math' is mentioned, people think you are talking about arithmetic, formulas, and equation-solving. To me, 'math' is more about the reasoning skills and processing of information. This is something that we need to emphasize more throughout our course curricula. I like to separate the types of things we do as mathematicians into "Skills" and "Tools".  I would argue that the Skills are where the real mathematics is happening!

Essential Skills:
• Problem-solving
• Reasoning
• Explaining that reasoning
• Transforming a problem into a format where we can apply mathematical tools (see below)
• Modeling (using equations and functions to represent real world relationships)
• The mindset that we can proceed even when we do not have all the answers (just give it a variable name to start)
• Collaborating with other when you don't have all the answers yourself
• Making predictions from sometimes limited information
• Restating the results back into the context of the original problem
• Effective communication of the results
Mathematical Tools:
• The number system and symbolic form of numbers
• Arithmetic to manipulate those numbers
• Equations and Formulas
• Equation solving techniques
• Functions (trigonometry and logarithms are great examples of useful tools, though often taught in more theoretical ways)
• ... and so much more; we find new tools when we have specific problems to solve!
Think about what you do with your typical Intro to Statistics course. A lot more time is spent on the "skills" list than on the "tools" list; Stats courses are usually great examples of the power we get from a nice blend of both.

As ambassadors of math to the "non-math" world, we do need to do more to sell the skills more than the tools. I would even argue that, as far as our brains are concerned, there is no such thing as "non-math skills." Everything we do as human beings depends on our thinking and reasoning skills. Our mental capacity to process information from the world around us is our primary evolutionary advantage.

George Alexander

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George Alexander
Math Instructor
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• #### 3.  RE: IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

Posted 09-23-2021 12:25:00
George - I think you hit it right on the head.  Most people who say they are not good at math or do not like it, really mean the tools, not the skills.  But so many people equate math to just the tools (including some teachers, sadly).  We need to show the world that Math skills are everywhere!

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Lisa Feinman
Project ACCCESS Coordinator
CC of Baltimore County
Catonsville MD
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• #### 4.  RE: IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

Posted 09-23-2021 18:34:00
Part of our job is teaching students how to be students--that means teaching study skills, note-taking, and test-taking strategies. I've also found that students who understand about mindset and grit persist longer on their homework, which makes it possible to learn more. In essence, students learn more mathematics if we teach some of these soft skills too.

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Johanna Debrecht
Assistant Professor
Red Rocks CC / Northern VA CC
Lakewood CO
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• #### 5.  RE: IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

Posted 09-24-2021 08:21:00
George's comment about the blend of skills in statistics is so true. I used to have my liberal arts students look for "math in the news," write a report and share with the class. For my developmental students, we spent time discussing all the other things going on in their lives, and create a schedule of their weeks to see when they would have study time. We also emphasized note-taking and even created a notebook in which they organized all their materials for the class and were to bring it each day. Some rolled their eyes on these tasks, but one student returned a year later to say what a great help these ideas were, and she was using them with her children.

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Judy Williams
AMATYC Program Coordinator
Associate Professor of Mathematics
Tidewater CC (retired)
Portsmouth, VA
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• #### 6.  RE: IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

Posted 09-24-2021 09:17:00
I could not agree more!  We need to find ways to support our faculty in teaching these skills.

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Alison Thimblin
Dean
Northern Virginia CC
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• #### 7.  RE: IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

Posted 09-26-2021 19:09:00
In class, I share my personal experience:  I was horrible in English in college, taking ENG102 twice and not because I loved it so much!  I was on track to be a math graduate, but then I needed to write research papers, write convincing grants, and present my work. No one was going to hire me just to think!

"Soft" skills get high priority in my undergraduate research groups.  My students first attend mathematical talks, then write reflections on them.  Their first writing assignments are simple math problems, like proving the quadratic formula, but I critique their writing. Their first talks are presentations just to the group and to me.  Then we get other faculty and students; then a local conference.

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Jonathan Weisbrod
Assistant Professor
Rowan College at Burlington County
Mount Laurel NJ
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• #### 8.  RE: IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

Posted 10-03-2021 21:02:00
Sometimes it backfires.
When I began teaching mindfulness for Math anxiety in a classroom, one student complained to the Math department, that she came to learn Math, not other stuff! Happy to say that she came around by the end of the semester, maybe due to the pandemic.
Some non-Math skills, like group work & collaborating with others are emphasized in our College Algebra class. Also, presentation skills as well as verbal explanations are required in some cases. I have grown to spend more time on soft skills at the beginning of the semester while building a class community. It takes time, but it helps in the long run by improving engagement and motivation.
Thanks for bringing up this point.

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