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Association of American Universities funds project to transform U of T's first-year math curriculum

The project plans to transform math education by incorporating engineering applications across first-year courses and redesigning course instructor and teaching assistant training (photo by Laura Pedersen)

The Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and the Faculty of Arts & Science are teaming up to revitalize the university’s first-year mathematics curriculum.

The collaborative project recently received a STEM Network mini-grant of $20,000 from the Association of American Universities (AAU).

The AAU awards mini-grants to advance existing efforts in improving undergraduate education. Other recipients include Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology.

At the University of Toronto, first-year engineering students must complete math courses that are taught collaboratively with the department of mathematics in the Faculty of Arts & Science. This interdivisional teaching partnership leverages world-class expertise in the field, but “there’s a terrific opportunity here to strengthen connections between the mathematics, and the concepts and skills that are foundational to engineering,” says Professor Micah Stickel, vice-dean of first year in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

The project brings together the academic leaders in U of T Engineering, including Stickel and Chirag Variawa, assistant professor, teaching stream, and director of the first-year curriculum, with Professor Jeremy Quastel and Bernardo Galvao-Sousa, assistant professor, teaching stream, from the department of mathematics and Alana Boland, associate profesor and associate dean of teaching and learning in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

The group aims to transform math education by focusing on two areas: incorporating engineering applications across first-year math courses, and enhancing course instructor and teaching assistant (TA) training for the delivery of first-year math courses, including training in active-learning techniques.

The AAU grant will support the team’s efforts in creating a new teaching post-doctoral research position and lead TA positions. They will work with the project team leaders to examine best practices in engineering mathematics education – including identifying approaches to incorporating engineering applications within math courses.

“This AAU grant empowers us to rethink how we’re delivering the most immersive learning experience for our engineering students, starting right from first year,” says Stickel.