Calculating changes

Jodi Mace

Calculus professors in the Department of Mathematics at Iowa State are divided on whether to continue using traditional teaching methods or switch to reform methods within the classroom.

“We still predominantly teach the traditional calculus course, but in the last year we have been trying to reform our teaching methods,” said Dr. James Peake, assistant professor of mathematics.

Reformed methods incorporate small group activities in the large lectures and introduce new and different types of problems that Peake said he hopes “students appreciate.”

Course content has also become more focused on the use of technology through computers and calculators.

“Computers and technology give the students a way to visualize, experiment and work through the calculus problem in a different way,” said Elgin Johnston, professor of honors calculus.

Although some professors have been “pushing hard to change to the new teaching methods” and are enthusiastic about reformed cooperative-learning and the use of technology, Peake said the majority of professors “continue to teach the same because they are set in their ways.”

Changing from traditional to reform methods is not going to happen overnight, Johnston said, but it is something the Department of Mathematics is studying very heavily right now.

A committee was appointed within the department to determine how calculus classes should be taught.

There has not been an official proposal to the department, but the committee seems to be leaning toward the creation of two separate tracks, Peake said.

One would be the traditional track, while the other would be more oriented toward the use of technology, he said.

“It is too early to tell how much of an impact the reform methods have upon students’ learning. Some are slower and can’t catch on, but there are the same problems with traditional methods,” Johnston said.

ISU is not the only university working on reform teaching. “In fact, nationwide there are advocates for both sides,” Johnston said.