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Education - lessons about learning

A New Formula for Calculus

By the 1960s, three hundred years after Gottfried Leibnitz and Isaac Newton independently developed it, calculus had become a standard freshman course for students in the physical sciences and engineering. Faculty began to use grades in those courses to screen potential majors in other scientific disciplines and to weed out the less gifted students, even in majors that scarcely required calculus. That approach drew protests, particularly from students not destined for fields that required advanced training in mathematics. The fact that several colleges took an assembly line approach to the subject, grouping students in large lecture classes taught by teaching assistants, exacerbated the situation. Indeed, a high proportion of the more than half a million students enrolled in calculus courses each semester either failed or could not apply calculus concepts in later courses.

In January 1986, mathematicians from 25 influential colleges and universities met at Tulane University under the auspices of the Mathematics Association of America (MAA). There, they discussed better ways to give students a conceptual grasp of calculus. NSF kept in touch with the reform movement, and in October 1987 announced its Calculus Curriculum Development Program, jointly administered by the Divisions of Undergraduate Education and Mathematical Sciences.

Over the next ten years, NSF-supported reform projects eventually led to a significant change in how calculus was taught. Changes include the use of graphing calculators and computers, open-ended projects, extensive writing, more applications, and use of cooperative learning groups. NSF-funded projects have also changed the infrastructure of calculus teaching. Virtually every traditional college-level textbook has been revised in light of the reform movement. The Advanced Placement calculus outline for high-school students has been overhauled, and revisions are underway on the Graduate Record Examination's mathematics section.

"There is no question of the importance the NSF initiative has had in achieving the changes reported to date," wrote the authors of an MAA report. "The NSF program successfully directed the mathematics community to address the task of reforming the calculus curriculum and provided coherence to those efforts."

PDF Version
The Evolution of Education
New Approaches for New Times
Making Mathematical Connections
Science Instruction Changes Course
A More Synergistic Whole
Infusing Education with Research
A Revolution in University Culture
A Great Deal of Good
Excellence in Higher Education
A New Formula for Calculus
Science for Everyone
A Lifelong Love of Science
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