Tag Archives: Calculus

Are the calculus MOOCs any good: After week 1

This is a continuation of a previous post.

I’ve been following the two Coursera calculus MOOCs: the elementary introductory to calculus being taught by Dr. Fowler of Ohio State University, and a course designed around Taylor expansions taught by Dr. Ghrist of UPenn, meant to be taken after an introductory calculus course. I’ve completed the ‘first week’ of Dr. Fowler’s course (there are 15 total), and the ‘first unit’ of Dr. Ghrist’s course (there are 5 total), and I have a few things to say – after the fold.


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Are the calculus MOOCs any good?

I like the idea of massive online collaboration in math. For example, I am a big supporter of the ideas of the polymath projects. I contribute to wikis and to Sage (which I highly recommend to everyone as an alternative to the M’s: Maple, Mathematica, MatLab, Magma). Now, there are MOOCs (Massice open online courses) in many subjects, but in particular there are a growing number of math MOOCs (a more or less complete list of MOOCs can be found here). The idea of a MOOC is to give people all over the world the opportunity to a good, diverse, and free education.

I’ve looked at a few MOOCs in the past. I’ve taken a few Coursera and Udacity courses, and I have mixed reviews. Actually, I’ve been very impressed with the Udacity courses I’ve taken. They have a good polish. But there are only a couple dozen – it takes time to get quality. There are hundreds of Coursera courses, though there is some overlap. But I’ve been pretty unimpressed with most of them.

But there are two calculus courses being offered this semester (right now) through Coursera. I’ve been a teaching assistant for calculus many times, and there are things that I like and others that I don’t like about my past experiences. Perhaps the different perspective from a MOOC will lead to a better form of calculus instruction?

There will be no teaching assistant led recitation sections, as the ‘standard university model’ might suggest. Will there be textbooks? In both, there are textbooks, or at least lecture notes (I’m not certain of their format yet). And there will be lectures. But due to the sheer size of the class, it’s much more challenging for the instructors to answer individual students’ questions. There is a discussion forum which essentially means that students get to help each other (I suppose that people like me, who know calculus, can also help people through the discussion forums too). So in a few ways, this turns what I have come to think of as the traditional model of calculus instruction on its head.

And this might be a good thing! (Or it might not!) Intro calculus instruction has not really changed much in decades, since before the advent of computers and handheld calculators. It would make sense that new tools might mean that teaching methods should change. But I don’t know yet.

So I’ll be looking at the two courses this semester. The first is being offered by Dr. Jim Fowler and is associated with Ohio State University. It’s an introductory-calculus course. The second is being offered by Dr. Robert Ghrist and is associated with the University of Pennsylvania. It’s sort of a funny class – it’s designed for people who already know some calculus. In particular, students should know what derivatives and integrals are. There is a diagnostic test that involves taking a limit, computing some derivatives, and computing an integral (and some precalculus problems as well). Dr. Ghrist says that his course assumes that students have taken a high school AP Calculus AB course or the equivalent. So it’s not quite fair to compare the two classes, as they’re not on equal footing.

But I can certainly see what I think of the MOOC model for Calculus instruction.

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Math 90: Week 8

Today, we had a set of problems as usual, and a quiz! (And I didn’t tell you about the quiz, even though others did, so I’m going to pretend that it was a pop quiz)!. Below, you’ll find the three problems, their solutions, and a worked-out quiz.


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Math 90: Week 7

I haven’t quite yet finished writing up the solutions to the problems we did in class yesterday. But I wanted to go ahead an make the solutions to the test available. They can be found here.

But please note that there is an error in the key! In particular, on problem 7(b), I forgot that we only care about $latex t geq 0$. So the final answer should not include $latex t = 1/2$.
The notes for the day are after the fold: (more…)

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Math 90: Week 5

A few administrative notes before we review the day’s material: I will not be holding office hours this Wednesday. And there are no classes next Monday, when my usual set of office hours are. But I’ve decided to do a sort of experiment: I don’t plan on reviewing for the exam specifically next week, but a large portion of the class has said that they would come to office hours on Monday if I were to have them. So I’m going to hold them to that – I’ll be in Kassar House 105 (the MRC room) from 7-8:30 (or so, later perhaps if there are a lot of questions), and this will dually function as my office hours and a sort of review session.

But this comes with a few strings attached: firstly, I’ll be willing to answer any question, but I’m not going to prepare a review; secondly, if there is poor turnout, then this won’t happen again. Alrighty!

The rest is after the fold –


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Math 90: Week 4

It was quiz-day!

The class did pretty well on the quiz. I wrote the quiz, and I’m pleased with the skill-level demonstrated. The average was about a 77%, and the median was an 80%. (For stat-witty folk, this means that the lower scores were somehow ‘lower’ than the average scores).

Anyhow, the solutions to the day’s problems and the quiz are below the fold:


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A MSE Collection: A list of basic integrals

The Math.Stackexchange (MSE) is an extraordinary source of great quality responses on almost any non-research level math question. There was a recent question by the user belgi, called A list of basic integrals, that got me thinking a bit. It is not in the general habit of MSE to allow such big-list or soft questions. But it is an unfortunate habit that many very good tidbits get lost in the sea of questions (over 55000 questions now).

So I decided to begin a post containing some of the gems on integration techniques that I come across. I don’t mean this to be a catchall reference (For a generic integration reference, I again recommend Paul’s Online Math Notes and his Calculus Cheat Sheet). And I hope not to cross anyone, nor do I claim that mixedmath is to be the blog of MSE. But there are some really clever things done to which I, for one, would like a quick reference.

Please note that this is one of those posts-in-progress. If you know of another really slick bit that I missed, please let me know. And as I come across more, I’ll update this page accordingly.


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Fun Limit

Recently, a friend of mine, Chris, posed the following question to me:

Consider the sequence of functions $latex , f_0 (x) = x, f_1 (x) = \sin (x), f_2 (x) = \sin{(\sin (x)) }.$ For what values $latex x \in {\bf R}$ does the limit of this sequence exist, and what is that limit?

After a few moments, it is relatively easy to convince oneself that for all $latex x $, this sequence converges to $latex 0 $, but a complete proof seemed tedious. Chris then told me to consider the concept of fixed points and a simple solution would arise.

If such a sequence were to converge to a limit, then it could only do so at a fixed point of that sequence, i.e. a point $latex x$ such that $latex f_1 (x) = f_2 (x) = … = f_n (x) = … = L$, and in that case, the limit would be $latex L $. What are the fixed points of the $latex sin $ composition? Only $latex 0 $! Then it takes only the simple exercise to see that the sequence does in fact have a limit for every x (one might split the cases for positive and negative angles, in which case one has a decreasing/increasing sequence that is bounded below/above for example).

A cute little exercise, I think.

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