Ideas for my 2009/2010 Calculus Project

Two years ago in calculus, when I only had one section and only 7 students were in that section, I had each student work on an individual project during the 4th quarter.  I helped each student choose a project based on their own interests and then they had a few weeks to work on them, and I would sometimes give them classtime to work on them.

Last year, I was given two calculus sections with many, many more students in it — and I couldn’t come up with a feasible way to ramp up this project idea. That year was devoted to trying to figure out how I could effectively teach to so many more students, who were all so varied in ability. (I did, however, had my kids do some amazing multivariable calculus projects.)

This year I still am teaching two calculus sections, but I feel like I have the course content way more codified. And my algebra boot camps are really working! [1] So I’m already contemplating what a final project would look like for my kids.

I think I will have students pick a partner and work on the project in a pair. And unless they come to me with a specific topic they are dying to investigate, I am going to give them a list of 3 or 4 projects they can choose from. I’ve been wondering what these projects might be, and I am leaning towards a few things that might appeal to those who are more artsy farsy. (Okay, who knows, I might give them 15 project ideas and have them make their own rubric.)

Some ideas that have popped in my mind (clearly they need to be really fleshed out):

1a. Write and illustrate a children’s book explaining calculus to someone in lower school (or, if you want, middle school). You then will present/read your story to actual lower school or middle school students

1b. Write and illustrate an “ABC”s of calculus book (e.g. L=Leibniz! Limit! L’Hopital!), explaining each term graphically or visually.

1c. Write a cogent response (with graphics) to this metafilter post. Be literary.

2. Research the uses of calculus in (architecture, physics, electrical engineering, chemistry, statistics, etc.). Interview someone who uses calculus in their work. Present your findings.

3a. Knowing what you know about calculus now, re-design the course. Explain what order you would teach things in, how you would introduce each unit, what sorts of assessments you would have and why, would you would expand upon, what you would reduce, etc.

3b. Rewrite a 3 day unit from the course. Make the smartboards, handouts, and assessments.

4. Create a visual map tracing the course from our origins (limits) to the end (surface area of revolutions). Explain in your map how various ideas and skills connect.

5. Now that you know more about calculus, revisit the ideas you briefly encountered studying the history of calculus. Do a more thorough and scholarly investigation of Newton and Leibniz and write a short paper explaining the similarities and differences in their philosophical approach to calculus.

6. Create video tutorials for 5 topics you found the most challenging in the course. You may use the SmartBoard. (This harks back to my Algebra II video project from two years ago.)

The point of this blog is for me to jot down ideas. (Some of them are terrible! But that’s brainstorming!) Let’s hope I can get a calculus project actually happening this year!

[1] How I know this first semester of calculus has been a success? I gave my kids their midterm last week, and the grades were way higher than expected. I was shocked that so many students were getting As. Good job kids! Good job!



  1. A Calc project sounds great! Even if grading 57 of them does not. =(
    I actually would love to know about your Algebra boot camp. Do you have a list of Algebra topics already lined up that I could a copy of? They keep creeping up on me and I’m mostly throwing them into bootcamp on the back-end right now and it’s not very pretty.

    1. I am making the Algebra topic lists based on the tests/quizzes I give — so I look back and say “what algebra skills do they need?”

      I doubt my lists would be of any help to you, because it seems so specific to the curriculum I’ve developed. At the end of the school year, though, I’ll try to post my curriculum and algebra boot camps lists.


  2. Do you mind if I shamelessly steal your ideas?

    In the mean time, I’ll try to come up with my own and share them with you.

    Here’s one to start off: For the last two years, I’ve been doing a project that sounds like a cross between two of your ideas- I’ve had the kids research uses of calculus (with interviews and professional journals) and then I have them present the information so that a non-Calculus speaker (as I call them) can understand the basics of what’s happening. Hopefully, the reader will be so interested that it will make them want to learn calculus so they can really understand what’s happening. But, this project is getting boring for me and my students so I need some new material.

    Keep us updated!

  3. i,m a +1 student……i wish to prepare a research type maths project. can u pls tell me a topic in calculus for that?

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