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

Gordon Fox, Scott Campbell, Arcadii Grinshpan, Xiaoying Xu, John Holcomb, Catherine Bénéteau, Jennifer Lewis, Kandethody Ramachandran

Abstract


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.

Keywords


calculus; student research projects

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JSTEM. ISSN: 1557-5284