Project Overview

Coherent Labs to Enhance Accessible and Rigorous Calculus Instruction

The Challenge

Attrition among even the most talented students presents one of the main barriers to significantly increasing the number of graduates from colleges and universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The nature of instruction in freshman courses is a primary factor determining whether students leave the STEM pipeline, and introductory calculus sequences are an important part of this pivotal early undergraduate experience. In particular, students in calculus often find their course to be an overwhelming collection of isolated procedures, conceptually inaccessible, and not relevant to their academic interests and goals.

Our Response

Project CLEAR Calculus is a research-based effort to make calculus conceptually accessible to more students while simultaneously increasing the coherence, rigor, and applicability of the content learned in the courses.

The objectives of Project CLEAR Calculus are

Curriculum Objective: Refine and disseminate 36 labs meeting specific design criteria for accessibility, coherence, rigor, and applicability spanning the content of a standard introductory sequence in differential, integral, and multi-variable calculus with supporting materials and interactive technology for students.

Faculty Development Objective: Refine and pilot faculty development in the form of summer workshops, weekly videoconferences, classroom video, and instructor notes to support successful implementation of the labs.

Research and Evaluation Objective: Assess the impact of the labs on student conceptual development of the central ideas in calculus and the nature of support required to enable instructors to effectively incorporate CLEAR Calculus labs into their calculus courses.

The principal investigators of Project CLEAR Calculus have conducted more than a decade of basic and design research on the teaching and learning of calculus, culminating in an instructional framework which leverages students’ intuitive reasoning about approximations and error analyses to meet the project design criteria. Draft versions of labs developed within this framework and implemented with a constructivist approach to active-learning have demonstrated potential to improve student understanding of the central concepts in calculus. The project will refine these labs and develop versions adapted to support instruction using any calculus textbook to enable widespread adoption.