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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

High-School Calculus: A Mathematical Dead End?

Advanced Placement calculus classes deter students from taking the subject in college, according to an article by MAA President David M. Bressoud in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Over the past two decades, enrollment in college calculus courses has decreased dramatically, a trend that coincides with the rise of high school AP calculus classes. According to Bressoud, the AP courses are the reason students choose to abandon mathematics. He points to a lack of synchronization between high school and college calculus curricula as the source of the problem, claiming that the lack of sophistication in AP classes leaves students too experienced for Calculus I, but unprepared for Calculus II.
College professors like Bressoud see problems with the AP courses, while high school teachers blame the worn-out lesson plans and lack of hands-on activities in college courses. "We have very little evidence of what has caused the general decline in enrollments in mathematics at the level of calculus and above," said Bressoud.
In the article, Bressoud suggests ways to improve the situation at both the high school and the college levels. First, schools should collect more information about why students are avoiding college calculus. For their part, high schools should establish and enforce guidelines to standardize expectations of the calculus classes they offer. Colleges, in turn, need to take into account the amount of material covered in high-school calculus, and offer courses specifically designed as a transition from high-school to college-level mathematics.
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 17, 2010).

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