Mathematics department plans to integrate precalculus, calculus courses to make student schedules easier

The Department of Mathematics is planning to propose changes to the current precalculus and calculus courses at its upcoming curriculum committee meeting, which includes merging courses into two different integrated courses.

The proposed changes are planned to help students with their schedules and workloads and is expected to be more effective than the current courses being taught.

The changes were discussed during a self-study that every department is required to conduct every 10 years, according to Tamara Lakins, chair of the math department.

“One of the driving forces for our self-study was that we really wanted to look at the ways to improve student success rates in our introductory mathematics courses,” Lakins said. “Really, we wanted to think about how we can help students.”

These new classes would make additional changes to the two calculus tracks, the Social and Life Sciences track and the second track made up of Calc I, II, III, that students can take after taking the mathematics placement exam which all students are required to take before matriculation.

“We were concerned there that students were having to decide really early in their careers which track to take, and since students often change their mind when they’re thinking about what they want to major and minor in,” Lakins said.  “Students who took the social life science calculus might have had to do some extra work to move to the other sequence. That’s not going to happen now.”

In order for all changes to occur, the proposal first has to be sent to the curriculum committee, according to Jared McHale, ’20, one of the five students on the curriculum committee.

“All student representatives are voting members,” McHale said. “(The proposal) has to be voted on and approved by the committee first, but the faculty still has the option of turning it down.”

McHale agreed the changes will be beneficial to students if approved and put into place, especially for those who are not math majors and minors but need the courses for other requirements.

“I do think it’s helpful for students who aren’t majors and minors that the math department is breaking up the sequences,” McHale said. “It also makes scheduling easier, because some will be offered three days instead of the four day class (which is offered now).”

Registrar and Associate Dean of Academics Ian Binnington, is another member of the curriculum committee. He works to decide whether to implement the proposed changes.

“This committee is made up of the five students elected by ASG, and the faculty, plus the faculty chair, professor Hellwarth in the English department,” Binnington said. “(Changing the curriculum) is a routine event that happens multiple times every year. Obviously, the math department is a significant department to be changing (since it is required for so many other subjects), but each new bullet presented is different from the one proceeding it from the year before.”

Binnington said  the decision to approve the curriculum changes depends on the case made by the faculty in the department and if there are any issues they might have forgotten or not considered.

“We rely on the expertise of the faculty in the field and make sure we understand how the transition will go also,” Binnington said. “Then there are two faculty meetings, one where we discuss, and then one where we vote.”

Binnington helps incoming students decide which path to take and said these changes in the math department will add an additional benefit for students as well.

“It will make it a lot simpler for incoming students to understand what to do,” Binnington said. “I’m very excited for these changes, they will benefit students (a lot).”

If the changes are approved, the current courses Math 157/158 and Math 159 would be eliminated and replaced with Math 140 and 141, which would be calculus I with precalculus, part 1 (140) and part 2 (141).

The current four-day-a-week math sequence which includes Math 160, 170 and 210 would also be eliminated to be replaced by four new courses: Math 151, or calculus I; Math 152, or calculus II; Math 211, or vector calculus and several variable integration; and Math 270, or optimization and approximation, that would meet three days a week.

With the new courses being offered, some of the old courses will be eliminated at the end of the spring 2019 semester depending on if the proposal goes through. These courses include; Calculus I for Social/Life Sciences (Math 157),  Precalculus (Math 159), Calculus I (Math 160) and Calculus II (Math 170).

For some courses, the transition period will be longer due to students currently enrolled in Math 157, who would need Math 158 in the fall, along with those who would still need Math 210.

“For example, if a student is a biology major and they’re in 157 right now, and they need 158 then we will teach 158 next fall, even though it’s one of the old courses, so the student can finish the math for their degree,” Lakins said. “There will also be one more fall offering of Math 210, that’s calc III. That will be for students who are currently in calc II, and if they succeed we want to give them a calc III. We don’t want to just take the course away from them.”

Lakins said current students who are successful in the courses they are taking this semester will have an easy time transitioning to the new system, but those who do not receive a C grade or higher may be forced to take a student initiated withdrawal in one class, because they will not be able to retake some of the current courses after this semester.

“(Students) will hopefully be able to move on to the other, new class and do much better in that class,” Lakins said. “But one low grade doesn’t prevent you from graduating, even though it might look like a big deal at the time.”

Lakins and the rest of the department want to help students and said students could be moved into the new courses, if necessary.

Depending on the needs of students, there will be a class for a student at each level that will be recommended for the fall 2019 semester or after the changes are made. Students in need of 158 and 210 in the fall are recommended to take those courses then, and those in need of calculus I or II will be able to move into the new courses in the fall semester.

Lakins said the math department faculty want to make the transition easy for students and hope the new system will make taking math courses less stressful for them. Lakins said students with questions are welcome to contact her.

“We are making all these changes because we want our students to succeed,” Lakins said. “We really believe that making these changes will help us to achieve that goal.”