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Community college math course holds some back

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - Some community college students across the East are afraid they won't get their degree all because of one 4-week math course.

About in 2011, the North Carolina Community College System introduced a new curriculum for math. It's known as Developmental Math Modules, commonly referred to as DMA.

It was supposed to give students the opportunity to quickly knock out these courses and move in to classes for their actual degree, yet more than a fourth of students at Pitt Community College have to retake one of its module classes.

"I can tell you how much paint it takes to put on a 365-foot ship but I don’t understand Algebra,” said Marcus Waller.

For Waller, a Navy veteran and PCC student, DMA 040 is a math course he just can’t wrap his head around.

"They teach it in a four week course and once you hit a certain age, it’s just harder to learn it,” said Waller. “You can learn it but it takes a little bit longer and this is where a lot of us are having problems.”

PCC’s Foundational Studies Dean Hilda Barrow says as many as 30 percent of students who take this mandated module course have to retake it.

In a statement to 9 On Your Side, Dean Barrow says “for students who have been out of school for awhile, it is a difficult course and we realize that.”

So the college encourages students to utilize the school’s support staff and tutoring facility.

“I see more students in the developmental math courses at these older ages; we do have some coming out of high school in these classes though,” said lead PCC math tutor, Austin Rice.

Each module math course focuses on a specific topic such as fractions, ratios and percentages. DMA 040 focuses on linear equations, which is beginning Algebra, something every student approaches differently.

 “DMA 040 is an ‘ah-ha’ moment class,” said adult student Cynthia Burnham.

The course is five days a week and Burnham spent much of her time in the math lab getting help from tutors.

 “Until you get that moment, you just don’t get it,” said Burnham. “You can do all the homework and still not get the grades you want.”

While Burnham passed the course the first time she took it, Waller didn’t.

“It’s kind of depressing sometimes because you feel like you’ve gone so far and all of a sudden you’re stuck,” said Waller.

He’s planning to retake it next month and hopes this one course doesn’t hold him back from getting his degree in human services.

 “We all want to be part of a positive production in life and to help other and that’s where we’re at and math is holding us up.”

Lenoir Community College is also facing similar problems and has turned to supplemental instruction to help students pass the DMA courses. A representative from LCC says all community college in the state are struggling with the 4-week module classes and they’re all looking at ways to help students succeed.

9 On Your Side obtained the North Carolina Community College System’s Developmental Math Module Curriculm’s module outline and notes from August 2011.

Put yourself to the test. Here are s
ample introductory application for DMA 040:

1)     In your own words, explain what a variable can represent.
Consider the following problems that can be represented using algebraic expressions or equalities:
    a)     Three more than six times a number is equal to seven more than four times a number. Find the number.
    b)    In an isosceles triangle, two sides of the triangle are equal in length. One of the equal sides is three more than six times the third side which is represented by x. The other equal side is seven more than four times the third side. Find the measure of the two equal sides of the triangle.
2)     What does it mean to have six x’s?
3)     Consider the following statements:
    a) These two algebraic expressions are equal to each other or you can say that they are in balance. To remain equal, they must remain in balance. Write a paragraph to describe the balance of the equation in the picture. Include the balance of the expressions and tell how that balance is confirmed with the value you found for x.

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