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Calculus Reform

Mathematics departments across the country divide into the following categories with respect to calculus reform:

  • all calculus classes reformed and reform fully embraced by faculty;
  • all or most calculus classes reformed but significant backlash seeks to undo reform;
  • modest reform (use of graphing calculators and some open-ended problems) and/or a few faculty teach sections fully reformed; most faculty are against significant reform and are hindering faculty wanting to teach fully reformed courses; and
  • no reform and little interest in changing.

Note that calculus reform involves how one teaches as well as the altered emphasis away from techniques and towards conceptual understanding, visualization, numerical methods, and applications. Fortunately, none of the Consortium mathematics departments fall into category (d). The three institutions, Dowling, Farmingdale, Nassau C.C. in category (a) are of no concern. Backlash is now a very important concern in the reform calculus movement. The past year and a half has seen significant publicity about backlash to reform, including a negative article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the dropping of the reform text at Stanford. Stony Brook currently falls in category (b) and is one of the few leading research mathematics departments (in the top 25 in NRC rankings) in the country to be fully reformed. The presence of the Consortium has played an important role in sustaining Stony Brook's calculus reform.

The other six institutions are in category (c). One of these institutions, C.W. Post, has just started using a reform text in Calculus I, because an influential skeptic was won over after being cajoled into coming to the fall Consortium conference and attending a workshop on cooperative learning and reformed calculus. Consortium leaders have been making progress, working with key faculty and administrators at these institutions, to facilitate the use of reformed materials by those who want to try them. Project PIs continue to look for "break-through" opportunities as occurred at C.W. Post.

Over the next year, studies should be starting to appear to document the positive impact of calculus reform. (Note: The data showing significantly reduced dropout and failure rates in reformed calculus courses at Stony Brook has been a potent weapon against anti-reform sentiment there.) Also, in 1998, the new GRE Mathematical Reasoning test, based on calculus reform, will go into effect. With this additional ammunition, the Consortium anticipates success in getting calculus reform fully adopted across the Consortium.

Some Examples of Recent Projects Include:

Develop A Module Of Real-World Problems, Using Examples From The Field Of Biotechnology, To Enhance The Teaching Of Calculus
Douglas Brown, Mathematics Department
Thomas Timchek, Mathematics Department
Robert Rosenfeld, Mathematics Department
Nassau Community College

Reformed Teaching Method For Calculus For Business Majors
Lan Zhao, Mathematics Department
SUNY-Old Westbury

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The Long Island Consortium is sponsored by the NSF Initiative: Mathematical Sciences and Their Application Throughout the Curriculum, DUE #9555142. The original NSF proposal can be accessed by clicking here.

Last updated October 7, 1997. Please direct comments or suggestions to [email protected]