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General Education Courses

All students must fulfill a Core Competency requirement in the mathematical sciences in order to graduate with a Bachelor's degree from Northern Illinois University
Every semester a number of unfortunate students must delay their graduation simply because they left this requirement until their final year, and something went wrong. Don't let this happen to you!

In this document we summarize

  1. the goals of Core Competency in Mathematics,
  2. how these goals are met in specific courses,
  3. the university's graduation requirements involving these mathematics courses.

Note that General Education at NIU includes two components: Core Competency and Distributive Studies. There are Core Competency requirements in English, Communications, and Mathematics. There are Distributive Studies requirements in four broad areas, one of which (Science and Mathematics) includes two courses from this department as options: MATH 229 and STAT 208. So in this document we also discuss
  4. Distributive Studies courses in the department.

More information is available in other web pages for individual courses and for sources of assistance for students in math courses. Students who intend to fulfill the NIU Core Competency requirement with coursework transferred from another institution are encouraged to read the web pages about transfer credits.

Core Competency Goals

A recent study found that half of all college graduates lack the critical-thinking skills needed for life in today's complex America:
    Without "proficient" skills, or those needed to perform more complex
    tasks, students fall behind. They cannot interpret a table about
    exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper
    editorials, compare credit-card offers with different interest rates
    and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental
    involvement in school.
The Core Competency program at NIU is designed to address this problem by developing students' skills in written and spoken communication and in quantitative literacy.

The following is a literal extract of a 1984 document which outlines what minimal mathematics competencies which the NIU General Education Committee expects graduates of this university to have. (This document was re-affirmed by that committee in April 2001.)

Core Competency is defined to mean strength in four broad mathematical areas:

1. Elementary Skills and Facts

Percents, ratio, decimals, and proportion. Different units of measurement. Elementary geometric ideas (square, circle, angle, parallelism and perpendicularity...). Equations and their solutions, particularly linear and quadratic. Systems of equations. Elementary inequalities. Graphing data (pie charts, histograms...). Means and average rate of change. Elementary counting principles, combinatorics and probability. Basic statistical notions -- mean, median, mode, standard deviation, and the normal curve.

2. Logical statements and Arguments.

Conditional statements, Inverse, converse, and contrapositive. Valid arguments. Logical fallacies.

3. Abstract thinking.

Spatial relationships (for example, figures formed by distance relationships -- circles, ellipses, ...). Estimation, approximation, judging the reasonableness of results. Geometric interpretation of problems (for example, a pair of equations in two variables represents a parit of lines, and the solution of the system is the point where the lines intersect). The notion of function. Sequential thinking and the formulation of algorithms.

4. Problem Solving.

The ability to state a problem clearly and concisely in the English language. How to formulate a problem in mathematical terms, solve it mathematically and interpret the solution in the original context.

These four areas are by no means independent. To analyze and solve a problem demands the technical skills in (1), the ability to think through the problem in (3), the formulation of a logically correct argument in (2) and, pre-eminently, the problem solving ability in (4).

Courses pertaining to Core Competency

More information is available on each course. Consult the Course Information Page

MATH 101. CORE COMPETENCY IN MATHEMATICS (3). Mastery of elementary skills and facts, understanding of logically correct arguments, abstract thinking, and problem solving ability.

MATH 110. COLLEGE ALGEBRA (3). Algebraic and exponential functions, basic linear algebra. Requires skills and knowledge of intermediate algebra and plane geometry.

Note that students may be required to take an intermediate algebra course elsewhere; those courses will carry no NIU credit.

MATH 155. TRIGONOMETRY AND ELEMENTARY FUNCTIONS (3). Polynomials and rational functions, review of exponential and logarithmic functions, trigonometry, and complex numbers.

MATH 201. FOUNDATIONS OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL MATHEMATICS (3). Introduction to sets, geometry, measurement, logic, structure of mathematical systems, and the real number system.

MATH 206. INTRODUCTORY DISCRETE MATHEMATICS (3). An introduction to sets, algorithms, induction, recursion, relations, graphs, trees, and algebraic structure, with applications, many of which are in computer science.

MATH 210. FINITE MATHEMATICS (3). An introduction to mathematical topics with applications to business, social science, and other fields. Includes such topics as functions and graphs, matrix algebra and solutions of systems of linear equations, inequalities and linear programming, elementary combinatorics, and probability.

MATH 211. CALCULUS FOR BUSINESS AND SOCIAL SCIENCE (3). An elementary treatment of topics from differential and integral calculus, with applications in social science and business.

MATH 229. CALCULUS I (4). A first course in calculus. Properties of limits, theory and application of derivatives, and an introduction to integration. Applications taken primarily from science and engineering.

Core Competency Graduation Requirements

All students must fulfill Core Competency requirements in English, Communications, and Mathematics in order to graduate with a Bachelor's degree from Northern Illinois University

There are several ways to meet the mathematics Core Competency requirement, as outlined in the university catalogue.

Note: These courses cannot be taken on a Pass/Fail basis to meet Core Competency.

It is highly recommended that students complete all their Core courses during their first two years of college. Few students report that mathematics courses become easier after an absence from these courses!

All of the courses in the General Education list, above, fulfill other requirements for specific majors and minors. Please consult with an advisor early in your program in order to make the best selection of mathematics courses to complete all requirements as expeditiously as possible. The Department of Mathematical Sciences cannot guarantee that students will be able to complete their required mathematics courses in a short time. It is thus the student's responsibility to begin the required mathematical sciences courses in a timely way.

Listed below are some programs which require specific mathematics courses. We cannot guarantee at this time that this list is complete; please contact your program advisor.

Distributive Area Courses

All NIU undergraduates must fulfill the General Education distributive studies requirements. Transfer students with an earned Associate's degree from an Illinois community college are considered to have completed these requirements. All other students must complete 29 semester-hours of courses chosen from specific options listed in the Undergraduate Catalogue, none of them in the department of the student's degree. These hours must include at least 7 semester-hours in Science and Mathematics. Among the options are two courses in the Department of Mathematical Sciences:

Specific restrictions apply to the completion of the General Education requirements; consult the catalogue for details.

Student who earn at least a C in MATH 229 will have completed both the Core Competency requirement in mathematics and (except for mathematical sciences majors) four hours of the Distributive Studies requirement.

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Dr. Qingkai Kong
E-mail: qkong@niu.edu

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Last modified: 2006/07/15 (zjy)