Calc Project 1999

In the fall of 1999, Tom Cathcart, a biological engineer and colleague at MSU, and I teamed up to teach first-year calculus to a group of incoming students whose declared major was Agricultural and Biological Engineering. The project was in conjunction with a new requirement that students in the College of Engineering purchase a laptop, and we were charged to try to integrate the use of the computer within the intro calculus course and attempt to discover how the use of the computer might enhance student learning/success in the course.

Whether or not we were successful is debatable. During this same academic year, I taught paired "generic" sections of calculus to students who were not required to own laptops. But, all students had access to the web-based materials we produced (which by the end of the year had grown sufficiently that we actually had our own subdomain (, long-since defunct) that had not only the written materials you'll find on the following pages, but various project materials, applets and links to external sites with supplementary and related materials. We also had a graduate student who had on-line office hours so during the evenings so that students could seek help at times that we hoped fit their schedules.

My feeling at the end of the project was (and still is) that letting the students know that we were available and interested in helping (either in person or via email) was a plus. Since there were a fair number of computer labs on campus, and many of the students across the university had computers in their residences, owning a laptop did not, in and of itself, contribute to their success.

Of course, I haven't even addressed whether or not computer algebra systems might or might not contribute. The students with laptops had Maple, and we spent some time in class teaching them to use it. But my observation was that, for most of the computations for which technology could help in an intro, single-variable calculus course, a graphing calculator was powerful enough, and the students almost uniformly preferred to use those (which they almost uniformly brought with them from high school and with which they were already comfortable).

So, without further ado and with all the shortcomings inherent in what were written essentially as course notes, are some of the materials:

Chap 0
Chap 1
Chap 2 A