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COVID-19: Hundreds of incoming students enrol in new U of T Mississauga math workshop

The Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre at U of T Mississauga is offering a free math workshop in response to the disruption high school students and teachers faced during COVID-19 (photo by Drew Lesiuczok)

Hundreds of incoming students at the University of Toronto Mississauga will be enhancing their math skills and filling in knowledge gaps before they jump into their first-year calculus classes this fall.

For the first time, the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre is offering a free math workshop to help students better prepare for post-secondary learning. 

Andie Burazin, assistant professor in the department of mathematical and computational sciences, says the initiative was launched in response to the disruption high school students and teachers faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a very turbulent time for high school teachers as well as students,” she says, referring to classes suddenly moving online. “Math is a big hurdle for many students – it creates a lot of anxiety. Even in regular situations, math is just one of those things they struggle with.”

Mindful that incoming students may not have the usual level of preparation before they enter first year, the dean’s office reached out to the academic skills centre to create an experiential learning unit to assist students who will be taking a first year calculus course. The two-hour workshops, which will run over six weeks starting July 13, are designed to help students better prepare their foundational math skills while giving them the knowledge and confidence to succeed at university.

Called Foundational Math Skills for University, the course will go beyond reviewing and practising pre-calculus high school material.

Burazin says the first week will explore how to succeed in a math course, what to expect when taking a course at U of T Mississauga and offer tips to improve if students come across challenges.

There will also be reminders that learning math is a cumulative process.

“It’s like building a house,” Burazin says. “You can’t have the third floor if you didn’t build the first floor. You need to have that foundation under your belt before you talk about more advanced topics in a first-year calculus course.”

Each lesson will start with a discussion about academic integrity, a topic that came up when Burazin surveyed high school teachers while preparing this course. She says she feels it’s important to discuss accountability and the consequences of cheating.

“It’s important students know they can’t cheat. They have to do their work honestly,” she says. “This is not like high school where you get a second chance.”

The course will mimic what students are likely to experience in the fall. They will have access to Quercus, the university’s online learning environment, get a feel for how classes are taught, and learn how to address professors and teaching assistants in emails.

They’ll also get a chance to meet peers.

“It’s supposed to help them develop a sense of community [and a] familiarity with what is going to potentially happen when they take a course at UTM,” Burazin says. “I think it’s important given the situation.”

There’s an added incentive for registered students to attend the classes. Burazin says participants will be entered into a draw to win a $100 gift card for the UTM Bookstore.

The six-week program has received a strong response from incoming students. Burazin says 500 students registered when the course was first rolled out so they expanded the program to meet demand. Now there are 700 students registered for 14 sessions that will take place over Zoom and Quercus.

Whether they are taking the Foundational Math Skills for University course or not, Burazin has some advice for students who will be taking a first-year math course this fall.

“When you’re stuck, reach out. Get the help,” she says. “And practise, practise, practise. It’s the only way you can do well in math.”