Calculus: A New Approach

In my last extended post, I wrote about how I was modifying our Algebra 2 curriculum. In this post, I’m going to briefly outline my ideas for my non-AP calculus course. The course as of right now is only decent. I haven’t put in the really huge amount of time and energy that I need to, so that the course is super fly. Unfortunately, this summer I won’t be able to do that either. I’m just incrementally improving the course (hopefully), instead of doing a wholesale rewriting. At this stage, I’m still okay with that.

So what changes will we see in this upcoming year? There are only two major ones.

First, we’ve finally given up Anton — that huge, dense textbook which is inappropriate for high school students and college students alike. I did a serious looking at a number of other books last year, but decided that all roads led back to Rogawski. The best part is that with Rogawski, there is something called “CalcPortal” which students are going to subscribe to. They will get access to an e-book — which is the textbook, but with interactive applets, and other goodies — but also I will be able to use WebAssign for online homework.

Yes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, I will be using online homework at least once a week. It will be graded for correctness, instead of just completion, and will provide immediate feedback for students to know what they get and what they don’t get!

(My fingers are crossed that setting up CalcPortal and administering this online homework will be easy.)

Second, I am going to finally address head on the problem I’ve had with my calculus students for the past two years: they can’t do algebra. So I’ve made a list of all the algebra skills that students need for each unit. Will students need to know their 30-60-90 triangles? Holes of rational functions? Vertical asymptotes? Instead of doing over a month of precalculus review at the beginning of the year, at the beginning of each unit, I am going to put my students through an algebra boot camp which covers only the algebra skills needed for that unit. They will be tested on these skills. Then we’ll transition to calculus, and use these skills to solve problems.

What I’m hoping will come from this is an ability to do serious calculus work, while recognizing that calculus ideas themselves aren’t really difficult. In fact, if you can get past the notation and the algebra anxiety, calculus is actually pretty simple.

And that’s it — the major changes for my calculus class.



  1. That seems good! At the university where I teach & am a grad student (for just another few days, anyway), we have our calculus students do a bunch of algebra/precalc review. It’s really boring, and I think, kills much of the excitement they could have had about the course. I would much prefer doing it in bits along the way.

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