Ivy Tech students benefit from curriculum that utilizes real-world application to math

Ben Markham, associate professor, and department chair of mathematics and physics at Ivy Tech Community College’s Bloomington campus, has earned praise from Chancellor Jennie Vaughan and his faculty peers for the countless hours he’s worked to improve the mathematics degree program for students at Ivy Tech system-wide.

“Ben has been diligently working to make MATH 123 easier to understand for students, especially by providing homework that is relevant,” Chancellor Vaughan said.

Markham puts his degree in physics to use each semester by teaching at least one physics class, but the majority of his time is spent teaching MATH 123, Quantitative Reasoning. The program is a statewide Ivy Tech initiative to help students become math literate in the real world. “The class puts math in perspective by analyzing mathematical content in media like The New York Times,” he said.

“When the concept for the class came up in a meeting I said I’d help, next thing I know I’m one of the people in charge of the program throughout the Ivy Tech system,” Markham said. “It’s all worked out so far, I’m just fortunate I have good people working around me.”

Markham found that a challenge that comes with using custom material is developing homework that will reinforce the exact concepts taught in his classroom. “I tried doing paper homework for a year, but paper isn’t practical anymore,” he said. “Then I tried Blackboard but I had trouble with that too, so I made my own online homework in an open source homework system that’s free for students to access.”

He developed his curriculum using open source software, which saves students the expense of a textbook each semester. Markham estimates that by using the open source homework method his students save approximately $100 each semester on top of the approximately $200 they save each semester by using the custom, Ivy Tech written, course materials. “Algebra hasn’t changed in three or four hundred years, so why do students need to buy a new book every year?”

Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Martin Wolfger, says that Ben rarely, if ever, takes a break and that he was on campus almost each day he was supposed to be off. “He turned the Math Department around and goes above and beyond in serving Ivy Tech students,” he said.

In the next few years, Markham hopes that MATH 123 will be offered as a dual credit class for high school students and/or throughout the K-12 system.

Markham began at the community college as adjunct faculty in 2001 and became a full time professor in 2005. He was promoted to department chair of mathematics and physics in January 2015.