BYU Calculus in the Sweet Sixteen

The Department of Mathematics was recognized in March by the biggest professional organization for teaching college-level mathematics: the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), which has over 25,000 members.

The MAA recently conducted a study of more than 200 college and university calculus programs nationwide and identified 16 of them as exemplary. BYU’s introductory calculus course, Math 112, was listed in that elite group. The study involved interviewing students, tracking their progress and failures and identifying their feelings towards math as a result of the calculus courses.

“Brigham Young University has . . . demonstrated a notable measure of success with its calculus program, exhibiting results with its students that have stood out,” said David Bressoud, former president of the MAA.

During the upcoming fall 2012 semester, the MAA will visit BYU and the other 15 recognized schools around the country to learn what makes their programs so outstanding.

“We have good faculty teaching our calculus classes, and that makes a big difference,” Jessica Purcell, professor and course coordinator, said. “But we also have really good students. You mix the two together, and you have a great program.”

While other collegiate math programs are shrinking, BYU’s is growing, and calculus classes are at the center of that growth. While 730 students were enrolled in Math 112 during fall 2010, that number jumped to 912 students in fall 2011.

“We’ve been putting a lot of effort into making math instruction better at BYU,” Tyler Jarvis, Department of Mathematics chair, said. “This is just evidence that all that work is paying off. It’s important to us that our students learn well, and it’s gratifying to know that we’re succeeding.”

The department has also drawn national attention for its performance in the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, a national math contest hosted annually by the MAA. BYU’s Putnam team placed 16th last year and 24th this year. However, the recognition for Math 112 means something different to the department because it impacts many more students and faculty.

“Thousands of students take our calculus classes, so doing an excellent job of teaching those classes makes a bigger difference in the lives of everyday students on campus than building a strong competition team,” Dr. Jarvis said.

By Alysa Kleinman Posted on