March 2010 Archives

A Successful Calculus Course

Sometime ago Barry and I talked about what it means to have a successful calculus class. We mentioned things like grades and appropriate test/quiz rigor, both of which naturally relate; if we gave our students easy tests, we would likely see a high class average. However, much more is considered when talking about the success of a course in calculus. If half of the original enrollment of students drop before the end of the semester then this may be reason for a very serious assessment of the course as a whole.

In my talks with Barry I've learned that many things contribute to how a course is graded as a success. If the number of students in a course who drop, withdraw, earn an incomplete, or earn a letter grade of D lower is adequately low then such a course may be called a success. The natural question that arises is the meaning of adequately low. From what I have seen in our section of calculus here at Morris, and from what I've heard about larger sections of calculus at other institutions, adequately low can vary substantially. For our particular section of calculus Barry and I aim for most students not to withdraw or drop for reasons of inadequate preparation, however, there are instances in which students are simply not ready to study calculus. For such students we hope that they first realize on their own that they are not well prepared, which seems to be the case for a large majority of students. For those who fail to see their lack of preparation, Barry sends emails asking to see students of this type in his office. Being able to inform one of our students, sooner rather than later, of the trouble they may face by continuing the course and earning a D or lower is seen by us as a success if the student does drop. While it is unfortunate, the student is given the opportunity for better preparation and a better experience with calculus by enrolling in a later semester.

It seems crucial to the overall progress of the class to be able to identify struggling students and provide them with appropriate advice. While this was not something I anticipated as a UTOP TA I see every need to assess these issues. Naturally, good preparation and organization on the part of the teacher is also a vital aspect to any successful class in calculus, but I hoped to shed some light on a "darker" side to being responsible for a class of calculus students.      

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