Implementing Projects in Calculus on a Large Scale at the University of South Florida

  • Gordon Fox University of South Florida
  • Scott Campbell University of South Florida
  • Arcadii Grinshpan University of South Florida
  • Xiaoying Xu University of South Florida
  • John Holcomb Cleveland State University
  • Catherine Bénéteau University of South Florida
  • Jennifer Lewis University of South Florida
  • Kandethody Ramachandran University of South Florida
Keywords: calculus, student research projects


This paper describes the development of a program of project-based learning in Calculus courses at a large urban research university. In this program, students developed research projects in consultation with a faculty advisor in their major, and supervised by their calculus instructors. Students wrote up their projects in a prescribed format based on scientific publishing norms. These write-ups were used as part of the basis for their course grades, typically as replacements for their final exams. Because this program involved a large number of students over several years, we were able to evaluate whether there were differences in how well students performed in subsequent courses (both mathematics and non-math courses required for engineering majors) (a) according to whether students were in sections offering projects, in concurrent non-project sections, or historical controls (prior to the project), and (b) among those in sections offering projects, according to whether they completed a project. We used as endpoints the pass and withdrawal rates in both the calculus courses themselves and in the follow-up courses. In Calculus II, students in project-option sections performed better than those in non-project-option sections, and this was true for every social subdivision examined (sex and race/ethnicity). There was a similar but smaller effect for Calculus III, which may thus be due to random fluctuations. Students submitting projects were more likely to go on to follow-up courses. Given enrollment in follow-up courses, there was no detectable performance difference between those who had and those who had not submitted projects; greater throughput does occur among those submitting projects, but this is associated with their greater enrollment in follow-up courses. In implementing this program, we encountered challenges in dealing with students, with the institution, and with individual faculty; we discuss the key challenges here.

Author Biographies

Gordon Fox, University of South Florida
Professor, Department of Integrative Biology
Scott Campbell, University of South Florida
Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering
Arcadii Grinshpan, University of South Florida
Scholar/Scientist/Engineer, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Director of the Center for Industrial and Interdisciplinary Mathematics
Xiaoying Xu, University of South Florida
Postdoctoral fellow, Department of Chemistry
John Holcomb, Cleveland State University
Professor and Chair of the Department of Mathematics
Catherine Bénéteau, University of South Florida
Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Jennifer Lewis, University of South Florida
Professor, Department of Chemistry
Kandethody Ramachandran, University of South Florida
Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics