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San Diego State University


Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus

Principal Investigators: David Bressoud, Macalester College Chris Rasmussen, San Diego State University; Linda Braddy, Mathematical Association of America; Vilma Mesa, University of Michigan. Funded by the National Science Foundation, 2009-2015.


This large empirical study is a national investigation of mainstream Calculus I to identify the factors that contribute to success, to understand how these factors are leveraged within highly successful programs, and to use the publications, committees, and public fora of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) to disseminate this information and help departments of mathematics build on its insights. Calculus I is the critical course on the road to virtually all STEM majors. Even students who do well in it often find the experience so discouraging that it leads to a change of career plans. We have very little data on the preparation and aspirations of the students who enroll in this course or of the factors that contribute to success in calculus. This proposal will fill this gap through two related studies. Phase 1 entails large-scale surveys of a stratified random sample of college Calculus I classes across the United States, leading to construction of a statistical model to predict the effect of factors that affect success in calculus. Phase 2 involves explanatory case study research into programs that are successful in leveraging the factors identified in Phase 1. This second phase will lead to the development of a theoretical framework for understanding how to build a successful program in calculus and in illustrative case studies for widespread dissemination.