Colorado State University  Mathematical

Improving student success in Calculus

By  Mary Nelson
From  Department of Applied Mathematics
UC Boulder
When  December 11, 2008
4:00 pm
Where  Weber 223
Abstract  The University of Colorado at Boulder applied mathematics department has been awarded a $450,000 grant by the National Science Foundation to introduce pre-examination "oral assessments" in a number of courses to improve student understanding.

In recent years the applied math department has tried to teach math more effectively to university students, said Nelson. Since 2003, oral assessments have been offered in a number of courses and appear to strengthen students' understanding of important math concepts and their capacity to apply knowledge in new and novel situations.

Before each written exam, groups of five students meet for an hour with a facilitator, who helps the students to talk about the basic concepts of the course. The process includes asking students to explain how and why specific mathematical procedures can be used and to draw graphs that clarify the meaning of important concepts of the course.

In 2003, the applied math department introduced oral assessments into a two-semester Calculus I course designed for students at risk of failing calculus. Analyses showed that students in the two-semester course earned higher grades, took and passed Calculus II at a higher rate and were more likely to be retained at the university than their counterparts.

According to the data, a combination of oral assessments and the two-semester Calculus I class for at-risk students cut the calculus failure rate at the university from more than 30 percent to under 22 percent.

Alexander Hulpke

The Colloquium counts as Seminar Credit for Mathematics Students.