This New Math Really Works

May 15th, 1994 | By | Category: 6-1: Media and Information, Tribal College News
By Jennifer Gray Reddish

With a failure rate of 80 percent in calculus, many Haskell Indian Nations University students dreaded the class. However, Jon Cruver, along with 23 other institutions in the Harvard Consortium for Calculus, have over­hauled the curriculum.

In the new program, Haskell pass rates of a “C” or above soared to 80 and 7 5 percent in calculus I and II, respectively.

The success reflects the new calculus pedagogy that stresses real life problems, rather than theory, making it both more interesting and useful. As Cruver states, “I have known many professors who take pride in failing people. But the pur­pose of mathematics is to empower people.”

“Traditional calculus required students to do 20 to 30 problems a night,” she says. “With Harvard’s approach, students do a lot less problems, and under­stand what they’re doing.”

The program teaches the “Way of Four.” Students are taught to approach problems from a traditional, graphical and numerical analysis approach—and be able to communicate answers.

This means being able to write in a coherent manner. Cruver explains that in the real world, students will be expected to report their answers back to their boss. “I ask a lot of essay ques­tions on my exams.”

As Hannes Combest, media director at the col­lege states, “We have adjusted the instructional style to American Indian students.”

The successful approach to calculus also revealed that most errors are algebraic. This led to the creation of the Bridge to Calculus consortium based at Harvard University. Here, instruc­tors use the same “Ways of Four” techniques on the pre-calculus level.

In this forum, Haskell works as an outreach insti­tution. This summer the school will host a calculus workshop July 24-25. Topics covered will include innovations in computer software, Native American learning styles, critical thinking and les­son plans.

Cruver plans to teach other instructors to be as practical as possible. “[The Ways of Four] is heavy duty intensive on class time. Each problem has to be taught four different ways.”

Cruver tested the suc­cess of the program with a Haskell calculus 11 stu­dent, and a math major from the University of Kansas. They were asked to find the derivative and the integral of a curve with no recognizable function.

Using the “Ways of Four,” the Haskell student found the answer graphi­cally—leaving the math major stumped.

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