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Space for Growth

May 4, 2016

The Mathematics Department needs space for students and faculty to collaborate. A new privately-funded building provides the answer.

In the video below, math faculty and students explain why the need for room is vital to Cal Poly's Learn by Doing philosophy: 



Watch extended interviews with mathematics students Caleb Jean-Luc Orion Miller (top left),Heidi Keas (top right), Kevin de Szendeffy (bottom left), and Matthew Varble (bottom right). 

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Cal Poly Program Could Help Reduce Math Anxiety, Close Gender Gap with NSF Funding

Oct 8, 2015

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Thanks to a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Cal Poly’s Academy of Inquiry Based Learning will lead an effort to increase active learning in college math classes across the nation, with research support from the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Evaluation and Ethnography Research unit.

Active learning — also known as inquiry-based learning (IBL) — has been shown to reduce math anxiety and close the gender achievement gap in math classes. 

IBL is a student-centered approach that is significantly different from traditional lecture-based math classes. Students are given problems and tasks that lead them through an exploration of mathematical strategies and skills. With instructor guidance, students form their own understanding of mathematical concepts rather than focusing on finding answers. The system allows students to learn from their failures and recognize trial and error as an integral part of the learning process.

“You need to actively engage students so that they construct their own understanding and ask their own questions, so they become better thinkers,” said Stan Yoshinobu, director of Cal Poly’s Academy for Inquiry Based Learning and one of the project’s leaders. “This approach is confirmed by brain research about how people learn.”

Research has shown that IBL reduces math anxiety by focusing on the process of doing mathematics rather than just memorization. This benefits all student populations, including women and minority groups. IBL also mitigates the gender gap currently found in math and science classes. In IBL courses, men and women earn similar grades and continue taking math courses at the same rate.

“We can start addressing some serious social issues by changing how we teach,” Yoshinobu said. “We can make a practical impact.”

Because IBL is so different, professors who want to use it in their class need training. “When you teach through inquiry, you have to adapt to your students in real time and help them get over their obstacles,” Yoshinobu said.

Currently, there is a shortage of trainers, and a limited number of faculty members nationwide have access to IBL workshops each year. This grant aims to triple the number of workshop leaders and add variety to the types of workshops that can be offered to better meet the needs of math instructors.

“As math professors, we can do our regular job in a different way and make a difference in students’ lives. The purpose of this project is to increase the number of people doing that,” Yoshinobu said.

Cal Poly and Santa Maria School District Receive $1.8 Million Math Education Grant

Apr 10, 2015

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly and the Santa Maria-Bonita School District received a $1.8 million California Mathematics and Science Partnership grant from the state Department of Education for a program to improve elementary and middle school student achievement in mathematics.

With this funding, Cal Poly will offer a three-year mathematics development program for local teachers called Central Coast STEM Institutes. The program will help teachers develop a curriculum that links mathematics to the real world.

"What we're trying to do is adapt the Cal Poly model of Learn by Doing into mathematics units for third- through eighth-grade teachers," said Kate Riley, a mathematics professor at Cal Poly who will lead the program.

Over the course of three years, 76 teachers from the district will receive substantial instruction in mathematics content and best teaching practices. They will partner with Cal Poly education and mathematics faculty members to construct curriculum modules — a group of lessons that include a hands-on activity — for example, creating scale architectural models to understand ratios and proportions. The curriculum modules will also align with the new Common Core State Standards.

"Applying mathematics in other contexts, such as simple engineering projects, helps students gain a conceptual understanding. It helps them relate math to the real world," Riley said. "In the 21st century, students need to move beyond ‘add, subtract, multiply and divide’ and into the application of mathematics."

A number of Cal Poly engineering faculty will be co-instructors, guiding teachers as they develop projects to take back to their classrooms. Central Coast community members who work in the engineering industry will also participate.

"Central Coast STEM Institutes will have a huge positive impact on our district," said Olivia Bolaños, director of curriculum and instruction for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. "With the Common Core State Standards still being relatively new, our third- through eighth-grade teachers have this wonderful opportunity to learn how to teach differently and give our students the 21st century skills and engineering practices they need to be college and career ready."

Through an online platform, teachers who participate in the program will be able to share the curriculum they develop with their colleagues in the district and teachers throughout the state. The program also includes a peer evaluation and improvement process that will allow teachers to collaboratively improve the curriculum over time.

"We think this model will create and sustain positive change in the district and hopefully statewide," Riley said.

Putnam Exam Results

Apr 3, 2015

The results of the 2014 Putnam Exam are in!  A total of 4320 students from 577 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada competed this year, and the Cal Poly team did quite well once again, earning an overall team rank of 84th out of 431 teams. Congratulations to team members Brian Jones, Michael Blakeman and Felipe Pegonoro!

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Wall Street Journal Ranks Mathematicians in Top 10 Best Jobs of 2014

Jul 25, 2014

Another day, another reason to get better at math.

It’s no secret that quantitative skills are in high demand on the job market—one analytics recruiter recently told The Journal that workers who can’t crunch numbers may ultimately face a “permanent pink slip.”

Now, a new ranking from the job-search website names mathematician as the best occupation of 2014. “Math skills unlock a world of career opportunities,” publisher Tony Lee said. (Cue the Square One theme, and tune in Mathnet.)

Data whizzes of all stripes fared well in the annual list: Statisticians (No. 3), actuaries (No. 4) and computer systems analysts (No. 8) all landed near the top.

Mathematicians pull in a midlevel income of $101,360, according to, and the field is expected to grow 23% in the next eight years. Other high earners include actuaries and software engineers, who can expect to earn about a midlevel income of $93,000 per year.

More on the Wall Street Journal Ranking

Cal Poly Ranked Best in the West by U.S. News for 21st Consecutive Year

Jul 25, 2014

Cal Poly has been rated the best public-master’s university in the West in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2014 America’s Best Colleges guidebook — the 21st consecutive year the university has earned the label.

Cal Poly ranked ninth in the magazine’s overall list of the West’s best universities, including both public and private institutions that provide “a full range of undergraduate and master’s-level programs but few, if any, doctoral programs.” U.S. News ranks colleges that grant doctoral degrees, such as those in the University of California system, in a separate category.

“Cal Poly’s excellence is deep and enduring, as shown by our continued success in this prestigious ranking,” said Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong. “This honor belongs to our dedicated faculty and staff members, who provide the backbone of the Learn by Doing experience. And it belongs to our loyal alumni, whose generous support enriches the educational experience that transforms our students into the innovative leaders and resourceful professionals who can help solve society’s most difficult challenges.”

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Cal Poly Math Academy in the News

Jul 25, 2014

Amélie Schinck-Mikel, a first-generation college graduate, said she remembers the first time she stepped onto a college campus. 

“It was just awe-inspiring,” she said.

Elsa Medina, also a first-generation college graduate, added “scary” and overwhelming, too.

“In my family, there was no one who would guide me in the process, and (college application is) a very extensive process,” she said.

The two women, now Cal Poly math professors, direct a one-week summer Math Academy, which began Monday and ends Friday. The academy, founded in 2012, encompassed three college visits into math-focused programming. But grant restrictions have since rendered previously available funding for the college travel obsolete.

More on Math Academy in the Santa Maria Times

Continue reading Cal Poly Math Academy in the News...
Brian Jones works on the Putnam Math Exam. Jones was Cal Poly's top scorer with 30 points. The median score at this year's competition was one.

Cal Poly Places in Top Seven Percent Nationwide at Prestigious Math Competition

Jul 7, 2014

Contact: Morgan Sherman

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Results were released for the 2013 Putnam Math Competition, and Cal Poly placed an impressive 36th out of 557 schools participating. This is Cal Poly's second top 50 finish in three years on the notoriously difficult annual exam taken by undergraduates.

"To put it in perspective, this is like making it to the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament but with 200 more teams vying for a spot to begin with," said Professor Jonathan Shapiro, who coached the team in past years.

The six-hour exam consists of 12 problems solved in two three-hour sittings, no calculators allowed. Each school selects three students whose scores determine that school’s ranking. Out of a possible 120 points, the median score for the 2013 exam was one point.

Brian Jones was the top scorer for Cal Poly with 30 points and an overall ranking of 266th out of 4,113 competitors, which placed him in the top six percent. Matthew Rodrigues scored 28 points for a rank of 365th, and freshman Michael Boulos scored 10 points for a rank of 1,324th. 

Other Cal Poly students who scored on the Putnam Exam but whose scores did not count toward the final ranking include Lumin Sperling and Tyler Jorgens with 10 points each and Derek Tietze and Michael Bower with eight points each.

"We are very excited about our students' performances," said Professor Morgan Sherman, who coached the team this year. "The exam focuses on creativity and problem-solving skills, areas where Cal Poly students excel, and we see that they can compete with some of the best schools in the country."

For more on the competition and the 2013 results, go to the website for the Mathematical Association of America.

About the Putnam Competition

The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, often abbreviated to the Putnam Competition, is an annual mathematics competition for undergraduate college students enrolled at institutions of higher learning in the U.S. and Canada, and Tel-Aviv University. It awards scholarships with cash prizes ranging from $250 to $2,500 for the top students and $5,000 to $25,000 for the top schools. The top 10 individual finishers get tuition waived at Harvard. It is considered by many to be the most prestigious university-level mathematics exam in the world. The competition was founded in 1927 by Elizabeth Lowell Putnam in memory of her husband William Lowell Putnam, who was an advocate of intercollegiate intellectual competition. The exam has been offered annually since 1938 and is administered by the Mathematical Association of America.



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