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Comparison of Paths to Calculus Success

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD IX: Research on First-year Programs Part III

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.334.1 - 25.334.10



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Paper Authors


Robin A.M. Hensel Ed.D. West Virginia University

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Robin Hensel is the Assistant Dean for Freshman Experience in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. She holds a B.S. in mathematics from Wheaton College IL, an M.A. in mathematics from SUNY at Buffalo, and an Ed.D. from West Virginia University. Before WVU, Hensel worked for the U.S. Department of Energy as a Mathematician and Computer Systems Analyst, and as an Associate Professor and Department Chair at Salem International Universtiy. Her research interests include STEM education at all levels, first-year experience and issues related to the transition from high school to college, and the retention and recruitment of women and minorities to STEM fields.

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Todd R. Hamrick Ph.D. West Virginia University

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Todd Hamrick has more than 20 years of engineering experience in industry. He has worked in process engineering, product development, product design, and technical sales. He recently returned to academia, and today he teaches and advises first-year engineering students at West Virginia University. His interests include advising students in the transition from high school to college, using robotics in STEM education, and first-year curriculum development.

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Comparison of Paths to Calculus SuccessSuccessful completion of a calculus sequence is essential to the education of any aspiringengineer. Many students have difficulty completing this task, therefore first yearprograms traditionally have implemented academic support programs to assist studentswith math. A large land grant university in the mid-Atlantic region implemented a 2-semester Calculus 1 sequence to facilitate success for those students who arrive at theinstitution only marginally prepared to enter a standard semester-long Calculus 1 course.The 2-semester Calculus 1 course teaches the standard Calculus 1 content, but provides“just-in-time” review of related algebraic and trigonometric concepts as they are neededthroughout the course. Calculus concepts are spaced further apart to make room for thepre-calculus concept review to be interspersed throughout the course, as appropriate.Teaching standard calculus in this slower format raised several questions and concernsamong faculty in both the mathematics department and the engineering college regardingthe impact of the slower paced calculus course: (1) Does the slower paced calculus prepare students to face the rigors of a faster paced Calculus 2 course successfully? (2) Does the slower paced calculus course give a student false hope or a false sense of security in completing the calculus sequence, since the other courses in the calculus sequence are taught at a much faster pace? There is concern that some students who may be able to pass the slower paced calculus course, but who may not be able to pass the faster paced math courses will delay transferring out of engineering until, nearly, their junior year, thereby making it difficult to complete a different major within a typical 4 or 5 year college experience. (3) Does the slower paced calculus course provide a more solid foundation to better prepare students to excel in calculus 2 and future calculus-related courses? (4) Are students who start in the 2-semester Calculus 1 course retained at a higher rate than their counterparts who start in the traditional one-semester Calculus 1 course? How do their graduation rates compare? The concern centers around course sequence and “flow” toward graduation. The additional semester of math required in the freshman year may impact the course selections available to the student in the second and third semesters due to pre- and co-requisite requirements, which may affect overall success and retention.To explore these questions, four years of course data have been collected and analyzed.Academic performance in subsequent courses (Calculus 2, multivariable calculus, andelementary differential equations) was compared for students from the traditional one-semester course and students from the two-semester Calculus 1 course. This paperpresents these results and the implications for future curriculum development and courseofferings at that institution and at other institutions who may consider this approach tohelping students succeed in mathematics. Options and alternatives for summerpreparation programs and student support systems, based on this research, are alsopresented and discussed.

Hensel, R. A., & Hamrick, T. R. (2012, June), Comparison of Paths to Calculus Success Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21092

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