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Project MINDSET: An Engineering Modeling Approach to Teaching High School Mathematics


Robert Young

Meeting Materials

Mathematics INstruction using Decision Science and Engineering Tools (MINDSET), a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project (DRL-0733137), is a collaboration between educators, engineers and mathematicians at three universities to achieve the following goals:

  1. Enhancement of students’ mathematical ability, especially their ability to formulate and solve multi-step problems and interpret results
  2. Improvement in students’ attitude toward mathematics
  3. Adoption of the curriculum in two states

To achieve the project goals, MINDSET created four primary project objectives. They are:

Tools for Instruction of K–12 Students.

  • Objective 1: Develop a new one-year high school curriculum and textbook using engineering-based decision-making tools and modeling to teach standard mathematics topics in a non-calculus-based fourth-year high school mathematics course.
  • Objective 2: Through a multi-state, multi-school district assessment, show statistically significant improvement in students’ mathematical ability, particularly in multi-step problem solving and interpretation of results, and in motivation and attitude toward mathematics.

Tools for Instruction of K–12 Teachers.

  • Objective 3: Develop an infrastructure to effectively train and support teachers who will teach the curriculum.
  • Objective 4: Demonstrate that this infrastructure is sustainable and sufficiently flexible such that it can be successfully reproduced and utilized by others.

MINDSET has achieved its goals and objectives. The project is now in its final year and, through a multi-state, multi-school district assessment, has shown a 14.5% statistically significant improvement in students’ mathematical ability, and a small (2%) improvement in motivation and attitude toward mathematics. The Industrial Engineering and Operations Research techniques used in the course are mathematics-based decision-making methods routinely used to model large systems. These models are used in manufacturing, healthcare, banking, government agencies, insurance, and food industries, in theoretical and applied science, and in all engineering disciplines. They are non-calculus based and build on a foundation of algebra, probability, and statistics. The curriculum supports mathematical learning through the contexts (e.g., industry and government) that relate directly to students’ lives.  It increases problem-solving skills to enhance students’ future success. Further, anecdotal evidence indicates that MINDSET appears to be of interest to students, and has a strong potential to engage and encourage high school students from underrepresented groups to pursue STEM careers.

Documented Results
The MINDSET curriculum requires two years of high school algebra for a prerequisite and uses interesting and innovative contexts that high school students can relate to—such as standing in line, scheduling part-time jobs, or designing a school bus route—or are modified from issues in industry. The new curriculum is exciting and challenging and engages students that are not in a calculus track, incorporating a broadly relevant curriculum that reinforces and enhances skills in basic mathematics, Algebra I and II, probability, data analysis, and statistics. The curriculum targets, but is not exclusive to, the lowest 50% of high school seniors, many of whom will go directly into the workforce, seek a two-year associate’s degree, or attend college in non-STEM majors. It relies on computer tools with extensive use of engineering modeling and Excel©. The use of Excel© is at such a level that students may be prepared to take the National Microsoft Excel Basic Certification Exam, providing a valuable certification for those students entering the workforce directly from high school. Consequently, the MINDSET curriculum integrates engineering and technology into an advanced high school mathematics curriculum.

Potential Applications
The MINDSET curriculum targets those states that have or are implementing a fourth-year mathematics requirement to graduate high school. Specifically targeted are those students who will not take pre-calculus but need an advanced mathematics course with an Algebra II prerequisite. This is generally the lowest 50% of high school seniors in terms of mathematical ability. Most of these students will go directly into the workforce, seek a two-year associate’s degree, or attend college in non-STEM majors. The curriculum’s support infrastructure, teacher identification and training for workshops, supplemental materials development, low cost of the two-volume textbook, and its availability in both electronic and printed form all situate the MINDSET project to go to scale. Currently, a scale-up proposal is under evaluation.

For More Information
Contact Robert Young at or Karen Keene at