Resequencing Calculas: Optimizing the calculus sequence for students in STEM
Optimizing the calculus sequence for students in STEM

Project Description

Resequencing Calculus Phase 2 (RC2) will beta-test a 3-semester, early-multivariate calculus sequence, develop supporting course materials and assessment instruments, and build support for widespread, sustained adoption of this approach. Topics are ordered so that material prerequisite for upper-level STEM courses is front-loaded into the first two semesters, Calculus 2 is an attractive jumping-off point for students in biology and chemistry, there is a natural progression of difficulty throughout the 3-course sequence, there is room in Calculus 3 to complete vector calculus through Stokes’ Theorem and the Divergence Theorem, and rigor is maintained. This is accomplished through an early introduction to multivariate calculus, vectors, and sequences; a postponement of infinite series; the inclusion of a brief treatment of matrices; and the de-emphasis, deletion, or redistribution of a handful of other topics.

RC2 will build off of Resequencing Calculus(RC1), an NSF-funded project (CCLI grant #0836676) at the University of Evansville (UE) to develop a text to support the first two semesters, to pilot the 3-semester sequence (using selections from a standard text for Calculus 3), to assess the effectiveness of the materials and the sequence, and to disseminate the results.

Specific goals of RC2 include:
  1. Refine and extend the text to include coverage of Calculus 3 and to meet standards at pilot institutions. This involves developing the third semester of the text, enriching the existing text to meet standards for pedagogy and coverage at pilot institutions, modifying content in response to feedback from instructors and students, and developing ancillaries necessary for a meaningful comparison with a traditional approach.
  2. Assess the effectiveness of piloting an early multivariate calculus sequence using the text and supporting materials. In addition to UE, pilots will take place at Millikin University, Valparaiso University, the University of St. Thomas, and the University of Central Missouri. Each pilot will be spearheaded by a member of the RC2 investigative team affiliated with the corresponding institution. A comprehensive assessment plan designed by the external evaluation team will be implemented.
  3. Disseminate project results through multiple channels—including journal articles, the project web site, presentations, mini-courses, and panel discussions.
  4. Facilitate broad and sustained adoption of the revised sequence. This entails development of tools to facilitate placement for students with transfer, dual, or AP® BC credit; consultation with leaders in STEM-focused professional organizations; development of a long-range strategy to influence AP® Calculus content; and conducting workshops and mini-courses on the establishment of an early-multivariate calculus sequence.
Intellectual Merit:

The importance of identifying core calculus topics for STEM disciplines has been underscored by recent initiatives such as the Curriculum Foundations Project (2004) and Math & Bio 2010(2005), both sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America. RC1 constructed and piloted a curriculum in which the topic selection and sequencing in calculus were modified to better meet the needs of students in all STEM disciplines. RC2 will provide evidence of the viability of this approach beyond the home institution and provide a framework for broad-based implementation. The investigators for RC2 include experienced textbook authors, award-winning teachers, curricular innovators, and 3 current or former department chairs. The team is thus ideally positioned to ensure that the resulting sequence not only enhances student learning but is also logistically feasible.

Broader Impact:

RC2 has the potential to change the face of calculus instruction on a national scale. The early multivariate approach of RC2 more closely connects calculus instruction with its application in STEM fields, it removes obstacles to the creation of a rigorous 2-semester calculus sequence, and it facilitates deeper and earlier exposure to upper-level math courses, the effects of which could reverberate throughout the STEM curriculum. Backed by the authority that comes with NSF support, RC2 will remove the impediments created by system-wide entrenchment by offering viable, transitional solutions to early adopters while campaigning for broad-based modification of the standard sequencing of topics.

The project summary for Resequencing Calculus - Phase 1 can be found here.

Download a pdf of the Phase 1 description here.

Download a pdf of the Phase 2 description here.