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Breaking The Cycle Of Calculus Failure: Models Of Early Math Intervention To Enhance Engineering Retention

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

FPD8 - Early Intervention & Retention

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.256.1 - 13.256.16



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Paper Authors

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Robin Hensel West Virginia University


J. Ryan Sigler West Virginia University

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J. Ryan Sigler is an Associate Engineering Scientist in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University where he serves as the Cooperative Education Coordinator; Recruitment Officer, and Freshman Engineering Advisor. He holds a Regents Bachelor of Arts degree from West Virginia University.

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Andrew Lowery West Virginia University

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Andrew D. Lowery is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University. He holds an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, a B.S. in Computer Engineering, all from West Virginia University, and is currently a Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering at West Virginia University.

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Breaking the Cycle of Calculus Failure: Models of Early Math Intervention to Enhance Engineering Retention


Since difficulty or failure in calculus is one reason students leave engineering during their freshman year, improving student performance and retention in Calculus 1 is expected to have a positive affect on freshman engineering retention. By identifying those engineering students who are having difficulty in calculus early in the semester, targeted interventions can be provided to help them successfully complete the course. For those who still withdraw midway through the semester, a one-credit mid-semester calculus preparation course can help them better prepare for their second attempt.

Supported by funding through a four-year NSF Grant, the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources tried an intervention strategy of offering a calculus readiness course during the second half of the semester. The course was intended to help students who withdrew from Calculus 1 by midterm because they knew they were failing. It was designed to fill the gaps in student understanding of basic pre-calculus and early calculus skills and concepts and to prepare students to succeed in calculus the next semester. An analysis of student performance in subsequent calculus courses supports this model as an effective intervention strategy.

While student self-identification and selection yielded a level of success for this mid-semester course in preparing students for their next attempt, students who elected to remain in their calculus course did not have the benefit of the additional review provided in the intervention course. Hence, the intervention model was modified to include early identification of poorly prepared students within the first four weeks of the semester and the development of several additional intervention options, including targeted review sessions, and a “grade recovery program” offered at midterm for students who elect to remain in their calculus course. The goal of the new model is to help the struggling students before they withdraw from calculus at all. Results of an analysis of student success in Calculus 1 and in subsequent calculus courses and student retention in engineering are presented.

1.0 Introduction

Difficulty in succeeding in calculus is one of the primary reasons students transfer out of engineering. In fact, historically, calculus has served as a filter in many engineering schools1. Engineering schools and math departments in a variety of universities have worked together to address this problem. Approaches include: introducing additional cooperative learning and problem-solving opportunities for engineering students taking calculus1; creating learning communities based on math placement so students can help and encourage each other2; removing pre-requisites to permit students to take Calculus 1 in their second semester and still progress on schedule in their engineering curricula3; redefining how engineering math is taught and creating a hands-on, application-oriented approach addressing only topics relevant to the core engineering courses4; and instituting an “early warning” system with optional “intensive pre-calculus” mid-

Hensel, R., & Sigler, J. R., & Lowery, A. (2008, June), Breaking The Cycle Of Calculus Failure: Models Of Early Math Intervention To Enhance Engineering Retention Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4172

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