More STEAM, please! UTech lecturer makes case for using arts-based programmes to improve maths scores

More STEAM, please! UTech lecturer makes case for using arts-based programmes to improve maths scores

Sunday, April 23, 2017

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DR Glenroy Pinnock, the mathematics lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) who uses live, instrumental reggae as background music in his tutorials as a means of aiding learning, says more educators need to devise methods that use the arts to improve learning outcomes in science areas.

Collectively, such programmes are referenced by the acronym STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and maths — and Pinnock is working on making some inroads. In fact, he told the
Jamaica Observer that he has been having preliminary discussions with the Mico University College and a US-based educator to examine ways in which he can expand his approach to mathematics teaching.

In addition, he is experimenting with introducing music in other ways to his students, for example through headphones, and he is exploring the use of other forms of musical tones and instruments as well.

“We in the Caribbean are now focusing on STEM — science, technology, engineering, and maths, which is good, but we need to have some kind of intervention programme to assist the many persons who don’t like mathematics. And as such, the arts, which is initialed by the ‘A’, will be that intervention,” he said.

Historically, mathematics pass rates for the standardised tests taken at the end of primary and high schools, Grade Six Achievement Test and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), respectively, have remained low. In the case of CSEC, only 47.7 per cent of students passed in 2016, which is a 14.3 percentage point decrease compared to the 62 per cent that did in 2015. In 2014 it was 56 per cent; in 2013 it was 42 per cent; and in 2012 it was a low of 37.2 per cent.

Dr Pinnock says his music approach, plus other arts-based initiatives, could be the answer.

“We need to do more research and more intervention programmes for our students to do well at maths,” he told Career & Education, explaining that generally when students do poorly at maths or other science areas, it is not necessarily because they don’t have the knowledge. It’s because they are “highly mathematically anxious”.

In the abstract for his doctoral dissertation, titled An Experimental Intervention for Reducing Math Anxiety and Fostering Positive Social Change, Pinnock argued that, “More than 30 per cent of university students with maths anxiety taking introductory maths failed precalculus in Jamaica [but] research has found that lowering math anxiety can lead to better math performance, and the use of binaural beats/isochronic tones has been linked to anxiety reduction.”

“This is the first musical mathematics research that has been done in Jamaica. In fact, I am the first person in the Caribbean who has done a formal research programme to create an intervention programme to aid students who are highly mathematically anxious, and there is more to do,” said Dr Pinnock.

Career & Education was unable to independently verify Pinnock’s claims of being the first. That notwithstanding, his approach does seem to be reaping success. Take that Tuesday tutorial we visited, for example. Thirteen of the 14 students passed the test, he reported.

The musician and lecturer credits Walden University for developing his quest to effect social change.

“I am very happy I studied at Walden because they are problem-centred. They teach students to identify problems and come up with solutions to impact them positively. They are very big on social change, so you wouldn’t find a person studying at Walden and coming out not thinking about problems that ought to be corrected. Had it not been for Walden, I would not be so embedded into bringing my passion, which is music, and mathematics together,” Pinnock said.

“One of the things about studying online is that you are forced to do a lot of work on your own, as opposed to running to your supervisor who sits around a desk in a brick and mortar setting, and it develops your reasoning skills from other persons from a wide cross section of ethnicities,” he added.

Dr Pinnock completed a doctorate in education in 2014 and has been lecturing at UTech since 2002.

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