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Why Do So Many Students Take Calculus

Why Do So Many Students Take Calculus

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Published by: Suman Ganguli on Oct 25, 2012
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1122
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OTICES
 
OF
 
THE
AMS V
OLUME
58,
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8
doceamus 
 . . .
let us teach
 DOCEAMUS
to describe the changes in the susceptible (s) andinfectious (i) fractions of a large population under-going the outbreak of a disease that confers immu-nity. If a person is infectious, say for eleven days,and the population is large and asynchronous,about 1/11th of the infectious recover daily. Themodel assumes that there is an average number of “close” contacts (c) each infectious person makesthat could transfer the disease. Combining thedaily contacts with the susceptible fraction givesan expression for daily new cases (contacts withimmune people don’t transfer the disease).At first students use these expressions recur-sively to estimate the course of the disease in one-day steps, subtracting the recoveries and addingthe new cases to the infectious group. Next we talkabout recursively updating the model in shortertime periods and then talk about the limitingcase of small time steps as a derivative. Machinecomputing allows us to calculate enough recursivesteps to produce interesting graphs of a modelepidemic lasting months. Once this is available weshift the class emphasis to trying to understandwhat the graphs tell us.Students think about the measles-versus-polioproblem and discover that the question boilsdown to a negative slope of the graph of infec-tious people. They need to rewrite the condition interms of the model as “
<1/
” and then comparethe contact numbers “c” for different diseases ([S-Projects] and [S-D]). (A simple integral gives a “firstorder invariant” of the model, and this can be usedCalculus is one of the great achievements of thehuman intellect. It has served as the language of change in the development of scientific thoughtfor more than three centuries. The contemporaryimportance of calculus includes applications ineconomics, psychology, and the social sciencesand continues to play a key role in its traditionalareas of application. Our students’ interests andpreparation are changing—see [B-Launch], [B-Focus], [S-Focus]—but calculus deserves a place inthe curriculum of educated people in many walksof life, not only as technical preparation for careersin math and the physical sciences. Here I suggesta method to improve reasoning skills, promoteteamwork, and capture the interest of a broadspectrum of college students. Student projectscan engage students in realistic problems theyfind interesting but, more importantly, they canhelp students synthesize and apply the knowledgegained by working template exercises and can senda message that the subject can solve real problems.My favorite calculus question is: Why did weeradicate polio by vaccination, but not measles? Ilike this question because it has real meaning and because effective use of computing can make itaccessible at a beginning level. Under some rea-sonable assumptions [C:TLC, Ch.2], one can begin
Why Do So ManyStudents TakeCalculus?
Keith Stroyan
Keith Stroyan is professor of mathematics at the Uni- versity of Iowa. His email address is 
keith-stroyan@uiowa.edu.
 
S
EPTEMBER
 
2011
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is to have students show themselves how calculusmight affect their lives.But using projects in a calculus course hasdrawbacks. Students don’t write very well, and aninstructor needs to help with both the math andstudents’ explanations. I use “dual submission”.The students submit a first draft that I mark upwith comments and questions. They correct itand submit a final draft. I believe that processis an important part of helping them make cleararguments. It’s hard work for all, but I find that itimproves students’ reasoning skills.You need to give students a week or two fromthe shopping list of calculus topics to think about
their 
problem. I reduced some of the usual topicsto find the time. We followed 2,286 students inseven later courses that use calculus and found noharm in technical preparation [BYU on C:TLC page].It has worked very well for faculty who are willingto use this method of helping students discoverfor themselves, “What good is it?”I love the subject in many ways—it is hard not toadmire Gauss’s, “General investigations of curvedsurfaces” [Gauss] or the many other mathemati-cal advances of calculus, but I believe the primaryimportance to most students is as a language of science—in their chosen discipline. (I include mathprojects for a tiny minority.) A beginning coursein calculus should make this point in clear termsthe students understand and develop themselves.I find that the projects of [S-Projects] or [Smith-Moore] begin to get students to use calculus tothink for themselves and hope this will serve manystudents in their manifold careers. This is a goodreason for so many students to take calculus. (See[NAA], [NS], [ NNAA], [SN] for a recent contributionof basic calculus.)
References
[Bos]
H. J. M. Bos
, Differentials, higher-order differentialsand the derivative in the Leibnizian calculus,
Archivefor History of Exact Sciences 
 
14
(1974), no. 1, 1–90.[B-Focus]
David M. Bressoud
, The changing face of cal-culus: First- and second-semester calculus as collegecourses,
MAA FOCUS 
, November, 2004.[B-Launch]——,
Meeting the Challenge of HighSchool Calculus 
,
[CinC]
James Callahan, David Cox, Kenneth Hoff-man, Donal O’Shea, Harriet Pollatsek,
and
LesterSenechal
,
Calculus in Context, The Five-College Cal- culus Project 
, W. H. Freeman & Co., New York, 1995.[Cohen]
Marcus Cohen
,
Student Research Projects inCalculus 
, MAA, 2009.[C&M]
William J. Davis, J. J. Uhl,
and
Horacio Porta,
 
Calculus and Mathematica 
,
[Gauss],
Karl Friedrich Gauss
,
General Investigations of Curved Surfaces of 1825 and 1827 
, Translated withNotes and a Bibliography by James Caddall Moreheadand Adam Miller Hiltebeitel, The Princeton UniversityLibrary 1902, reprints available from The University of Michigan Libraries and Dover, Mineola, 2005.
to measure the contact number c for real diseases.)When I teach calculus I have teams of studentswrite a “lab report” or term paper describing theirsolution to the measles-versus-polio question beginning with a description of the model writtenin their own words. It is important that they recallhow the model was built from simple ideas. I use aweek of the course to show students how to writea technical report on a realistic problem and havea more independent project later.Projects such as the herd immunity questionallow students to think for themselves and writecomplete reasoned solutions. In my experience,most beginning calculus students are not readyto give technical proofs in the style of most cal-culus texts, but they can be encouraged to reasonmathematically well beyond the level of templateexercises by working on a larger problem that theyfind interesting. (The usual proofs most teachersknow by heart are only “simple” and convincingonce you understand the formulation in abstractfunction notation. See [Bos].) If students don’treason in some higher-level way about the mate-rial, the course tends to be reduced to templateexercises and contrived “Story Problems”. I believea college course in math should move beyond this.(
The Far Side
captures the popular view of math inthe “Hell’s Library” cartoon in which all the booksare “Story Problems”.)Most students at the University of Iowa take cal-culus for one semester or less (with AP credit), soI believe we should strive—in the first course—toreally convince students that the subject speaksto their interests. A number of texts do this in dif-ferent ways, such as [CinC], [C&M], [Smith-Moore],[Hilbert], [HarvardS and HarvardM], [Pengelley],and [Cohen], but I believe courses often fall shortof showing students how calculus might affecttheir lives. It is easy to get sidetracked by algebraor trig skills and boil the course down to templateexercises. That ends up reinforcing students’ im-pression that math doesn’t solve real problems.Projects can have a profound impact on stu-dents because they “take intellectual ownership”of the problem. Most of my students can describetheir projects a decade after they took the course.I wrote a book [S-Projects] with many projects(including some on pure math) to try to give everystudent something they find interesting. In theseprojects I try to keep the prerequisites simple, butalways correct, science. I try to build on technicalcalculus topics developed in the course, and theassignments are timed to let students apply thatnew knowledge soon after it is encountered. Westill have to do lots of “drill” and template exer-cises, but we don’t stop there. My projects are lessdefined than some approaches that give more of a “road map”. This takes more time but gives thestudents more responsibility. My goal for projects
 
1124
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OTICES
 
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THE
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OLUME
58,
N
UMBER
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[NS]
M. Nawrot
and
K. Stroyan
, The motion/pursuitlaw for visual depth perception from motion parallax,
Vision Res 
.
49
(2009), 1969–1978.[Pengelley]
Edward D. Gaughan, David J. Pengelley,Arthur Knoebel,
and
Douglas Kurtz
,
Student Re- search Projects in Calculus 
(Spectrum Series), MAA,1992.[Smith-Moore]
David A. Smith
and
Lawrence C. Moore
,
Calculus: Modeling and Application
, 2nd ed., 2010,
.[S-Focus]
Keith D. Stroyan
, The changing face of calcu-lus: Engineering math at the University of Iowa,
MAAFOCUS 
, February, 2006.[S-Projects]——,
Projects for Calculus: The Lan- guage of Change
,
 (originally published by Aca-demic Press, 1998).[SN]
Keith Stroyan
and
Mark Nawrot
,
Visual Depthfrom Motion Parallax and Eye Pursuit 
, submitted,2010.[SD]
[C:TLC]
Keith Stroyan
,
Calculus: The Language of Change
,
 (originallypublished by Academic Press, 1993 and 1998).
on researchers to work pro bono (or even pay pagecharges) as authors, referees, and editors, whilereaders and libraries paid for material that thecommunity freely supplied and evaluated.By
enhancement 
I mean the process of turninghandwritten or, subsequently, typed manuscriptsinto polished, professionally typeset articles. Withthe ascendancy of TEX, the onus of enhancementhas shifted to the author. Most journals now expecta L
A
TEX source file, adapted to their own peculiari-ties, with little or no editorial involvement. Some journals continue to copyedit papers, but they arenow the exception. Thus, remarkably, publishershave managed to extend the free labor model toinclude most of their traditional enhancementfunctions.Similarly, in the days of handwritten and typedmanuscripts,
dissemination
of research to the
[Hilbert]
Stephen Hilbert, John Maceli, Eric Robin-son, Diane Driscoll Schwartz,
and
Stan Seltzer
,
Calculus, An Active Approach with Projects 
, John Wiley& Sons, New York, 1994.[Harvard S]
Deborah Hughes-Hallett, William Mc-Callum, Andrew M. Gleason, Andrew Pasquale,Daniel E. Flath, Douglas Quinney, Patti FrazerLock, Wayne Raskind, Sheldon P. Gordon, KarenRhea, David Lomen, Jeff Tecosky-Fledman, DavidLovelock, Joe B. Trash, Brad G. Osgood,
and
Thomas W. Tucker
,
Single Variable Calculus 
, 3rd ed.,John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 2002.[Harvard M]
William McCallum, Deborah Hughes-Hallett, Daniel Flath, Brag G. Osgood, AndrewM. Gleason, Douglas Quinney, Sheldon P. Gordon,Wayne Raskind, Patti Frazer Lock, Jeff Tecosky-Fledman, David Mumford,
and
Joe B. Trash
,
Mul- tivariable Calculus 
, 3rd ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,New York, 2002.[NAA]
J. W. Nadler, D. E. Angelaki
and
G. C. DeAnge-lis
, A neural representation of depth from motionparallax in macaque visual cortex,
Nature
 
452
(2008),642–645.[NNAA] J
. W. Nadler, M. Nawrot, D. E. Angelaki
, and
G. C. DeAngelis
, MT neurons combine visual motionwith a smooth eye movement signal to code depth signfrom motion parallax,
Neuron
 
63
(2009), 523–532.
Whither the academic journal? Publishers arescrambling to adapt to the new and rapidly evolv-ing digital world. Libraries must balance decliningresources with soaring prices and new bundledmodels of journal subscriptions. Meanwhile, man-agement and investors are ever more nervous astried-and-true economic models become obsolete.The mathematics community has reached a cross-roads, requiring a full and frank discussion of thefuture role of journals in our profession.The traditional published journal offered fourprimary benefits to the scientific community (see below for definitions):
enhancement 
,
dissemina- tion
,
archiving 
, and
validation
. These formed thelure that, in the past, enabled publishers to sign
Journals in Flux
Peter J. Olver 
Peter J. Olver is professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. His email address is 
olver@math.umn.edu.
...written words endure 
SCRIPTA MANENT 

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