OK, let’s be honest. How many librarians out there took calculus in college? How many had to take it more than once? Future librarians are not the only ones who struggle with first-year college mathematics. Over 40% of students fail their first course in mathematics at the college level, and obviously, this impacts the retention of STEM majors. How can librarians help students in mathematics who are at least two years away from literature searching in library resources? A recent paper by researchers at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) presents findings that may provide some clues. In “The Effects of Implementing Recitation Activities on Success Rates in a College Calculus Course,” Watt et al. report that students who attended required recitation sessions in which they learned calculus concepts through multiple representations had a lower course fail rate and higher retention after one year, compared to students who had optional peer mentoring or required recitations with graduate students. Usually, calculus is taught solely through algebraic representations, but the experimental, active learning recitation sessions also used verbal, geometric, graphical, and numeric representations of concept. The content of these successful learning activities may be beyond my comprehension, but as a librarian, I can find learning activities or objects in books, repositories, and websites. Part of the reason STEM faculty don’t change their pedagogy is the huge time commitment required for redesigning a course. Knowing a librarian could assist in finding learning activities may encourage faculty to take that first step away from traditional lecture style teaching and toward active learning. Librarians can also develop collections to support changes in STEM teaching, including lesson plans, and promote them to faculty. So if you work with STEM departments, don’t be intimidated by the content. You’re an expert at tracking down information, and you can contribute to retention of STEM students even without knowing Taylor’s Theorem (I never did understand that one).

Image attribution: “NooNoo Studying Calculus” by Dean Jackson, 2004. Licensed by Creative Commons.

One Response to “Can Librarians Help Freshmen In Calculus?”

  1. Karen Harker

    My breakthrough in calculus came from the 100 year old text by a British school teacher: Calculus Made Easy, by Sylvanus P. Thompson. It is now available online via the Gutenberg project: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/33283 . All it takes is the right teacher with the best method for each student.

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