The national need to transform STEM education is paramount, as evidenced by the persistent gap in STEM degree attainment between whites and minorities, which continues to be a wide chasm in spite of greater numbers of minority students entering into STEM studies as compared to ten years ago. This gap may be attributed in part to the systemic problem of a growing number of minority undergraduate students who are unable to continue their STEM studies because of their inability to pass pre-calculus, the gateway to calculus, which is a requirement for all STEM majors. This paper presents preliminary findings from a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education grant to increase the number and proportion of Latinx, particularly Latinas, who successfully complete pre-calculus and persist to completion of a STEM degree. The focus of this project is a 5-hour, pre-calculus course at a public, 4-year institution, consisting of four hours of classroom lecture and two hours of workshop facilitated by learning assistants (LAs). To increase the success rate of students in pre-calculus, the project aims to create theory-informed communities of learners that promote active, collaborative learning using evidence-based practices, such as cooperative learning and the use of metacognitive strategies. Extant research suggests LAs can be instrumental in fostering student learning, especially when they have an understanding of a sociocultural theory of learning. In this project, the LAs undergo an intense professional development workshop to understand cooperative learning and the importance of social settings to promote learning. The LAs are supported throughout the semester with the assistance of a faculty member who is certified in cooperative learning methods. When communities of learners are developed, students become producers and disseminators of knowledge rather than solely consumers of knowledge.
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