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Unlocking the Gate to Calculus Success: Pre-Calculus for Engineers - An Assertive Approach to Readying Underprepared Students

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

FPD 8: Engineering Math Issues

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1285.1 - 23.1285.23



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Paper Authors


Tanya D Ennis University of Colorado Boulder

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Tanya D. Ennis is the current Engineering GoldShirt Program Director at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. She received her M.S. in Computer Engineering from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from
Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her career in the telecommunications industry included positions in software and systems engineering and technical project management. Tanya most recently taught mathematics at the Denver School of Science and Technology, the highest performing high school
in Denver Public Schools.

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Jacquelyn F. Sullivan University of Colorado, Boulder


Beverly Louie University of Colorado, Boulder

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BEVERLY LOUIE is the director for teaching and learning initiatives in the Broadening Opportunities through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center in CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. She holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from CU, and a D.Phil. in mechanical engineering from the University of Oxford, England. Dr. Louie’s research interests are in the areas of engineering student retention and performance, teaching effectiveness and collaborative learning.

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Daniel Knight University of Colorado, Boulder

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Daniel W. Knight is the engineering assessment specialist at the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program (ITLL) and the Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center in CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. He holds a B.A. in psychology from the Louisiana State University, and an M.S. degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. degree in counseling psychology, both from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Knight’s research interests are in the areas of retention, program evaluation and teamwork practices in engineering education. His current duties include assessment, evaluation and research for the ITL Program’s and BOLD Center’s hands-on initiatives.

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Unlocking the Gate to Calculus Success: Pre-Calculus for Engineers – An Assertive Approach to Readying Underprepared Students for CalculusUnderrepresented engineering students who enter the college underprepared in mathematics donot possess the basic skills necessary to succeed in calculus. Various factors contribute to theseissues including high school deficiencies in math instruction, lack of access to highly qualifiedteacher resources, poor instruction, and lack of student interest in higher level mathematics. TheYYY Program at large western university is piloting a gateway to calculus success by offering anew pre-calculus for engineers course in the college to adequately prepare these students forsuccess in calculus.In previous semesters in an effort to gain pre-calculus mastery, these YYY Program studentshave taken math courses outside of engineering in hopes of preparing for the calculus sequencein the engineering curriculum. After reviewing the subsequent results in calculus 1, overallstudent performance was less than stellar and demonstrated poor success in calculus 1. Of thestudents who took these math courses outside of engineering, 64% earned less than a B- and 33%received a D or an F in calculus 1. The pre-calculus for engineers course was developed incollaboration with the Applied Math program to prepare students to have a deeper understandingof mathematical concepts beyond what they have received previously and to prepare them forcalculus success. A pilot class of 16 took the course in the spring 2012 semester, many of whomhave moved on to calculus 1 in the fall 2012 semester. Current changes to the pre-calculuscourse will be discussed in the paper, including the adoption of the mathematics ALEKSLearning System not only to assess student skills in a variety of categories, but also to teachstudents math skills in which they are not yet proficient. Students are expected to own theirlearning and progress through modules to improve their understanding of concepts while alsomeeting the expectations of the lecture and recitation for the course. Student performance inALEKS is heavily weighted in the students’ final grades. In the fall 2012, 28 students are currently enrolled in the course. However, based on placementscores from ALEKS, about 100 additional students (14% of the new freshman class) placedbelow the threshold for calculus 1 readiness and are not included in the new course.Recommendations that have been made to the college to expand the pre-calculus for engineerscourse have not yet been adopted.This paper will examine the performance results of the pre-calculus for engineers course andcompare student performance to students’ subsequent calculus 1 performance. It is expected thatthis examination will uncover the keys to proficiency in math and calculus success. Pre and Post-assessment will be discussed to gauge student understanding and mastery of foundationalmathematical concepts necessary for calculus success.

Ennis, T. D., & Sullivan, J. F., & Louie, B., & Knight, D. (2013, June), Unlocking the Gate to Calculus Success: Pre-Calculus for Engineers - An Assertive Approach to Readying Underprepared Students Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22670

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