To Succeed in Calculus Undergrad Classes, You Must Be Social

Posted on March 23, 2012 by


I’m a grad student working on a thesis…proposal.  I want to blog so much, but I often don’t have the time.

So I thought, why not see if I can make the two happen at once.  The result:  annotated bibliographies containing the methods of study, and the findings in easily accessible bullet-point format.

I think that just putting these sources out there for the public perhaps invites some discussion, perhaps piques some curiosity outside of academia;  it also forces me to be a lot neater in presentation — the annotated bibliography that I have on my Google Docs is a mess;  here’s to me straightening them out.

That said, the very first article I will annotate:

Treisman, Uri. 1992. “Studying Students Studying Calculus: A Look at the Lives of Minority Mathematics Students in College.” The College Mathematics Journal 23 (5) (November 1): 362-372.

Methods:  Intitially, interviews with UC Berkeley Minority Undergraduates.  Then,  ethnographic time-and-motion study of 20 Black and 20 Chinese UC Berkeley students.


  • Many black students from the inner-city are motivated, but are rather disoriented (p.366)
  • Black students’ calculus grades correlate negatively with high school Math SAT scores.  Many of the strongest students failed early.  Black men with high SATS often faced academic dismissal.  The few successes come from students who appear to be of “middle ability. (p.366)
  • What does studying mean?  For Black students:  Wake up, go to class, take notes, get homework, go home, do work religiously putting in 6-8 hours of work, hand it on time.  Usually done alone, 18 of 20 students worked alone.  They had no idea how other students were doing:  exams were like a lottery.  For Chinese students:  Studied calculus 14 hours a week, including 8 to 10 hours working alone.  Get together and go over homework, and check each other’s answers.  They would edit each other’s solutions.  Cousin or older brother would test them.  They would work problems from old exams.  They would check up on each other. (pp. 366-367)
  • Creation of remedial courses leads nowhere.  At Berkeley, there’s pre-calculus.  Only one student goes on to receive a B or higher in second-semester calculus.  Students who take remedial courses never complete science degrees.  (p.367)
  • Proposes a solution:  an anti-remedial program for students who saw themselves as well-prepared, that emphasizes group learning and community life on mathematics, with difficult problem sets.  (p.369)
  • 600,000 1st year calculus students, 250,000 fail.  (p.369)
  • A study by Sandy Astin and Ken Green found that in 1966, 4.6% high school seniors who took the SAT were interested in math as a major.  Today [1992], that number is 0.6% (p. 370).  We are teaching courses when filtering was a necessity.  Now courses need to inspire students (p.370).
  • What passes for calculus is ritualized exercise, mastering limited algorithms. (p.370).