Over the past two years, the Tang Institute has partnered with Andover’s English and math departments to advance departmental reviews. On December 12, 2023, and January 9, 2024, the institute served as an independent and confidential host partner for two focus groups in support of the math department’s review process. Andover students volunteered their time to participate in the groups.

The first group (8 students) was open to any Phillips Academy student willing to share their learning experiences in the math department. The second group (10 students) was hosted in partnership with CAMD (Community and Multicultural Development office) and was open to students associated with the CAMD office.

Below are the six questions generated by the math department, the Tang Institute, CAMD, and the Office of Institutional Research. These were selected based on previous student surveys and math department faculty meetings. Students in both groups answered all six questions.

  1. When you feel successful in math class, what were some strategies that helped your success? What are the learning activities that you find most helpful?
  2. What do you find challenging in your math course?
  3. What do you think about the way your math courses are graded?
  4. Collective learning is the process of learning within a group of peers. Typically collective learning looks like a focused group effort to achieve a task collaboratively. In turn, collective learning can help us understand a math topic or concept more fully as an individual, even though work is completed collaboratively. Do your peers care about collective learning in math class or when working on math outside of class?
  5. What groups of students do you feel most comfortable working with in math class? And why? What students outside of math class? And why?
  6. If you are using online resources outside of class, why? If you are using AI resources outside of class, why? How are these resources helpful?

Both groups shared meaningful insights into their learning, which were recorded electronically by a member of the Tang Institute, the Office of Institutional Research, and the math department. The feedback supported review work already undertaken in the math department and illuminated new considerations that the math department plans to use in advancing their course of study. The responses will be reported confidentially in the forthcoming Math Department Review.

Beyond the quality of confidential student responses, the collaborative effort in running the focus groups exemplified the Tang Institute’s capacity for leading the advancement of teaching and learning through ongoing convening efforts at Phillips Academy. Currently, the math department has finished its work with a visiting review committee and will complete its corresponding report in the next few months. With the information generated from the focus groups in hand, the math department will continue its work in offering a course of study that upholds the highest standard of excellence.

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