May 15, 2010, 11:41 am
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I’ve made it to the end of another semester. Classes ended on Friday, and we have final exams this coming week. It’s been a long and full semester, as you can see by the relative lack of posting going on here since around October. How did things go?
Well, first of all I had a record course load this time around — four different courses, one of which was the MATLAB course that was brand new and outside my main discipline; plus an independent study that was more like an undergraduate research project, and so it required almost as much prep time from me as a regular course.
The Functions and Models class (formerly known as Pre-calculus) has been one of my favorites to teach here, and this class was no exception. We do precalculus a bit differently here, focusing on using functions as data modeling …
May 12, 2010, 12:52 pm
The calculus class took their third (and last) hour-long assessment yesterday. In the spirit of data analytics ala the previous post here, I made boxplots for the different sections of the test (Conceptual Knowledge (CK), Computation (C), and Problem Solving (PS)) as well as the overall scores. Here are the boxplots for this assessment — put side-by-side with the boxplots for the same sections on the previous assessments. “A2″ and “A3″ mean Assessments 2 and 3.
Obviously there is still a great deal of improvement to be had here — the fact that the class average is still below passing remains unacceptable to me — but there have been some definite gains, particularly in the conceptual knowledge department.
What changed between Assessment 2 and Assessment 3? At least three things:
- The content changed. Assessment 2 was over derivative rules and applications; Assessment 3 covered…
April 25, 2010, 1:47 pm
I just graded my second hour-long assessment for the Calculus class (yes, I do teach other courses besides MATLAB). I break these assessments up into three sections: Concept Knowledge, where students have to reason from verbal, graphical, or numerical information (24/100 points); Computations, where students do basic context-free symbol-crunching (26/100 points); and Problem Solving, consisting of problems that combine conceptual knowledge and computation (50/100 points). Here’s the Assessment itself. (There was a problem with the very last item — the function doesn’t have an inflection point — but we fixed it and students got extra time because of it.)
Unfortunately the students as a whole did quite poorly. The class average was around a 51%. As has been my practice this semester, I turn to data analysis whenever things go really badly to try and find out what might have happened. I …
April 11, 2010, 2:56 pm
One of the fringe benefits of having immersed myself in MATLAB for the last year (in preparation for teaching the Computer Tools for Problem Solving course) is that I’ve learned that MATLAB is an excellent all-purpose tool for preparing materials for my math classes. Here’s an example of something I just finished for a class tomorrow that I’m really pleased with.
I was needing to create a sequence of scatterplots of data for a handout in my Functions and Models class. The data are supposed to have varying degrees of linearity — some perfect/almost perfectly linear, some less so, some totally nonlinear — and having different directions, and the students are supposed to look at the data and rank the correlation coefficients in order of smallest to largest. (This is a standard activity in a statistics class as well.)
I could have just made up data with the right shape on Excel or…
March 21, 2010, 7:32 pm
There’s a discussion going on right now in the Project NExT email list about calculus textbooks, the merits/demerits of the Stewart Calculus textbook, and where — if anywhere — the “next wave” of calculus reform is going to come from. I wrote the following post to the group, and I thought it would serve double-duty fairly well as a blog post. So… here it is:
I’d like to add my $0.02 worth to this discussion just because (1) I’m a longtime Stewart Calculus user, having used the first edition (!) when I was an undergrad and having taught out of it for my entire career, and (2) I’m also a fairly consistent critic of Stewart’s calculus and of textbooks in general.
I try to see textbooks from the viewpoints of my students. From that vantage point, I unfortunately find very little to say in favor of Stewart’s franchise of books, including the current edition, all of the…
February 9, 2010, 1:34 pm
I learned the following trick for memorizing the value of e from my colleague, Gene White. It never fails to impress calculus students (given a wide enough definition of “impress”).
Start by carefully looking at this picture:
That’s a 20 dollar bill, so memorize “2″ and put down the decimal point.
The picture on the bill is of Andrew Jackson. He was our seventh President, so put a “7″ after the decimal point to get 2.7.
Jackson was elected in 1828, so put down “1828″ next. Since there’s a 2 in front of the decimal place, put “1828″ a second time. We’re now up to 2.718281828.
Now look at the red square over Jackson’s face. The diagonal creates two congruent right triangles with angle measures 45, 90, and 45. So, add on 459045 to get 2.718281828459045. And that’s e to 15 places.
I’m open to suggestions on how to memorize more of the digits.
February 8, 2010, 7:00 am
I’m doing some research, if you can call it that, right now that involves looking at past editions of popular and/or influential calculus books to track the evolution of how certain concepts are developed and presented. I’ll have a lot to say on this if I ever get anywhere with it. But in the course of reading, I have been struck with how little some books change over the course of several editions. For example, the classic Stewart text has retained the exact wording and presentation in its section on concavity in every edition since the first, which was released in the mid-80′s. There’s nothing wrong with sticking with a particular way of doing things, if it works; but you have to ask yourself, does it really work? And if so, why are we now on the sixth edition of the book? I know that books need refreshing from time to time, but five times in 15…
January 19, 2010, 9:22 pm
This is probably the last of three articles on how piecewise-linear functions could be used as a helpful on-ramp to the big ideas in calculus. In the first article, we saw how it’s possible to develop some of the main conceptual ideas of the derivative, without much of the technical notation or jargon, by using piecewise-linear functions. In the second article, we saw how to use the piecewise-linear approach to develop an alternative limit-based definition of the derivative of a function at a point. To wrap things up, in this article I’ll discuss how this same sort of approach can help in students’ first contact with integration, again by way of a hypothetical classroom exercise.
When we took this approach with derivatives, we used the travels of three college students from their dorm rooms to the cafeteria. Each student had a different graph showing his position as a (piecewise-linear)…
January 12, 2010, 10:45 am
This is the second post (here’s the first one) about an approach to introducing the derivative to calculus students that is counter to what I’ve seen in textbooks and other traditional treatments of the subject. As I wrote in the first post, in the typical first contact with the derivative, students are given a smooth curve and asked to find the slope of a tangent line to this curve at a point. But I argued that it would be more helpful to students’ understanding of the derivative to start with a simpler case first, namely to use only piecewise-linear functions at the beginning. This way, as we saw, we can develop some important core ideas about the derivative without resorting to anything more than pictures and an occasional slope calculation.
But now, we need to deal with the main problem: What happens if we do have a smooth curve, not a straight line or…