MARGARET HALL: Introducing a formula for success

As adjunct faculty member Margaret Hall greets new students each semester, she soon discovers that many of them feel somewhat like a domino trapped in a domino toppling game: They describe how their self-esteem has been knocked down repeatedly no matter how many attempts they make to pass algebra classes.

“Students in the developmental math courses are typically students who tell me they ‘hate math’ or are ‘terrible at math,’” says Hall, who has taught math at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast for five years. “My goal is to help them be successful and therefore develop confidence, having accomplished something that is difficult for them.”

Fortunately for these students, Hall is a domino-setter, of sorts, who is there to prop them up again and help them improve their morale . . . and grades. Her approach to rejuvenate their self-worth is two-fold: One step involves making a personal connection, and the other is restructuring the standard curriculum.

Hall teaches Fundamentals of Algebra I and II using the college’s math emporium, a remedial education model that uses an instructor, a tutor, and the online software, MyMathLab. This model helps to address the gaps in traditional classroom delivery by serving a greater variety of learning styles and identifying individual problem-solving deficiencies.

The Northeast region was among the first to pilot the program in Ivy Tech’s statewide system during fall semester 2011.

Math emporium uses a mastery approach, where students work independently to finish each module satisfactorily before they are permitted to move on. They are required to achieve 100 percent on the homework and at least 80 percent on quizzes and tests.

Students can also test out of the modules, and for those who may not complete their lessons by the end of the semester, the computer-based instruction allows them the option to re-enroll in the course and start from where they left off from the previous semester.

“I love seeing the ‘ah-ha’ moments and hearing the testimonies from students who have either hated math or just didn’t get it, tell me they now understand it or that my class is their favorite class. I want them to know I’m their fan,” Hall says. She derives added satisfaction from showing students their passing scores in her grade book. 

Hall credits her five adult children—who she home-schooled from kindergarten to grade 12—as the greatest influences toward her becoming a successful college-level instructor.

“In sharing their own experiences with professors, I gained insight into what practices I wanted to employ and which ones I wanted to avoid,” Hall says.

Understanding her students’ life circumstances and the challenges they face is a prime objective for Hall, too: “I want to connect with them so they feel a connection with me and know that I want to know them as a person, not just as a body in my classroom.”