The Calculus Project Description
According to the Associated Press in 2011, the percentage of African Americans earning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees has significantly decreased during the last decade. Unfortunately, this disturbing trend is also prevalent amongst Hispanic Americans and low income students.
Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, who is chair of the Committee on Underrepresented Groups and the Expansion of the Science and Engineering Workforce Pipeline, and leaders of a National Academies committee wrote a report entitled, “Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads”. They stated that to increase the number of minority students who enter STEM academic disciplines, schools need to develop summer programs in math, science and engineering that include or target underrepresented minority high school students. Additionally, “These programs should provide experiences that stimulate the interest in these fields through study, hands-on, active research projects and develop a cadre of students who support each other in their interest.”
Calculus serves as a gate-keeper course to STEM disciplines. Unfortunately, students who do not successfully complete a calculus course in high school face greater challenges entering STEM academic disciplines than students who do complete calculus or advanced placement calculus (AP calculus) in high school.The odds of gaining acceptance into a competitive college are even greater for students enrolled in Calculus. A study conducted by the College Board in 2008 concluded that students who were enrolled in Calculus earned an average score of 611 on the mathematics section of the SAT. The dismal percentage of minority and low income students who enroll in calculus translates into sparse representation in STEM majors. Further, it diminishes their overall chances to succeed at college.
The Calculus Project is an initiative to dramatically increase the number of low income, African American and Hispanic American students who enroll in and successfully complete Calculus Honors or Advanced Placement Calculus. The Calculus Project is unlike any initiative in public education to close the achievement gap in mathematics. Its uniqueness lies in the curriculum comprised of summer enrichment courses in mathematics that run between and parallel to honor and standard (college preparatory) level courses in mathematics. Students who struggle in the honors sequence of courses use the summer enrichment classes to maintain their standing in honors level courses. Students who are successful in standard level mathematics courses and who are willing to work hard with additional academic support, have the opportunity to enroll in Calculus Honors during their senior year.
The Calculus Project originates in the middle school with rising eighth graders who enroll in a mathematics enrichment course entitled, “Algebra Preview”. The Algebra Preview workshop is offered over the summer before eighth grade. Each three-week summer session requires students to meet Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Students who participate in the Calculus Project are required to attend all of the summer enrichment workshops. The enrichment mathematics courses prepare them for the subsequent math class by introducing students to the core mathematical concepts vital to their success in the course. During their freshman year in high school, we try our best to group these students in the same mathematics sections to foster peer-to-peer collaboration. They also receive tutoring free of charge until they complete Calculus Honors or Advance Placement Calculus their senior year. Students who attend the mathematics enrichment courses over the summer will also learn how to: 1) take adequate notes; 2) develop strategies for studying effectively and efficiently; and 3) improve self-advocacy skills. The completion of these objectives will culminate into a portfolio students may utilize in their mathematics courses in September. The courses subsequent to Algebra Preview are: 1) Course 1 Honors Preview; 2) Course 2 Honors Preview; 3) Course 3 Honors Preview and 4) Calculus Honors Preview.
The Calculus Project utilizes pre-teaching, therefore, making it adaptable in all high schools. Moreover, the Calculus Project’s sequence of courses creates a pipeline of summer enrichment courses students can access anytime between the seventh and twelfth grade. This special characteristic provides five “entry points” for students to access the program, hence allowing greater student participation.
The Calculus Project strengthens the relationships of the three groups of stakeholders vital to closing the achievement gap in mathematics: students, parents and teachers.
- Students: Carol Dweck has conducted extensive research about fostering a growth mindset to improve student learning. Students who possess a growth mindset believe they can develop their intelligence over time, view challenging work as an opportunity to learn and grow, and value effort. Students who participate in the Calculus Project are taught that success in mathematics stems from hard work and not an innate ability established at birth. Additionally, students learn how to work collaboratively in groups in and outside of the classroom. This is vital to their success as students because they are grouped in the same section of mathematics until they graduate. Students learn how mathematics is applied to the real world through classroom activities and field trips. Further, they have the opportunity to meet African American and Hispanic Americans who work in STEM professions. The Calculus Project addresses the high unemployment rate of teenagers by hiring them to serve as student teachers in the classroom. The student teachers are high school students who have successfully completed the course they are teaching and have exhibited mastery in the subject matter. This is mutually beneficial to students in the classroom because the student teachers can model the strategies and work ethic it takes to be successful in rigorous courses. Modeling coupled with the possibility of someday working as a student teacher increases the students’ confidence and provides an incentive to be successful in mathematics.The student teachers benefit significantly because they are cementing their knowledge in mathematics.
- Parents: Strong parental involvement is vital to the success of the students who participate in the Calculus Project. Parents are responsible for encouraging their children to attend the summer enrichment courses and the tutoring center. Parents are provided with a course roadmap to calculus honors or AP calculus so they can support their children.The parents of students who participate in the Calculus Project recruit and mentor the parents of prospective students. They also have the opportunity to provide constructive feedback to the director of the Calculus Project by joining the Calculus Project Advisory Board. The Advisory board is comprised of teachers, administrators, parents and students meeting once per month.
- Teachers: Teachers participate in professional development training to learn more about Carol Dweck’s growth mindset and to improve their multi-cultural competency. During professional development, teachers learn strategies for creating an inclusive and collaborative work environment in the classroom. Additionally, they learn strategies for improving parental outreach and communication.