One of the neat things to come out of my Hub affiliateship is Autumm gently pushing me to finish a project I started a few summers ago and then unceremoniously dropped: an open source worksheet generator (CC-BY-NC) for Calculus!

The inspiration for this project came from teaching what is known as a “bridge” course in mathematics, a class that prepares you for the journey from freshman- and sophomore-level mathematics courses to junior- and senior-level courses. The former courses emphasize computation, while the latter tend to focus on logical arguments through mathematical proof. UM Dearborn’s very own Aditya Viswanathan was at the time a postdoctoral student at Michigan State, and he had been involved with their “bridge” course, called “Transitions”. Until Aditya and I talked about it, I did not know that the Transitions courses at MSU were overseen by a friend of mine from graduate school, Russell Schwab. Russell was not happy with how the course had been run and decided to focus more on group work than traditional lectures. If you read my previous blog, you would not be surprised to learn that I was excited when I heard this news, and wanted to implement their approach in my class. I contacted Russell to ask whether he could clue me in to what they were doing at MSU.

What I got was far more than I expected: the Transitions group had created a document in the mathematical typesetting language LaTeX (although they’ll tell you it is TeX that is the typesetting language) that allowed an instructor to search through a database of well-catalogued problems in order to assemble their own worksheets. I received access to all the files associated with this project, and used them to tailor my own worksheets when I taught UM Dearborn’s “bridge” course, Math 300. I should also plug the open text I used for the course, Ted Sundstrom’s Mathematical Reasoning: Writing and Proof (CC-BY-NC-SA). I thought it went pretty well, but I’ve only been asked to teach Math 300 one other time and almost no one enrolled, so…

Once the class was over, I thought about how much I would have liked to have a similar worksheet generator available for intro Calculus classes. What if I could make life easier on subsequent instructors who also wanted to try a group work approach? So the summer after I taught Math 300, I began a Calculus version of the worksheet generator. Unfortunately, the process was so tedious that I stopped doing it in favor of, well…less tedious things. Then in one of our affiliate meetings, I confessed to Autumm that I had begun work on this project but had never finished it, and she liked the sound of completing it once I clarified that I intended to put the Calculus worksheet generator up on GitHub.

Thankfully, the worksheets I used for Calculus were part of a team project: ACTIVE CALCULUS! Joan Remski, Kelly Jabbusch, and I piloted this program a few years ago. As you might imagine, it involved group work, plus the support of some well-chosen student mentors to help us with the sessions, since it is rather difficult for one instructor to attend to 32 students at the same time. We started the class with some jumping jacks…no, not really. Someone had to write the worksheets, though, so Kelly and Joan took the job for Calculus I while I got Calculus II. I only felt comfortable cataloguing worksheets I made, and since Joan’s current position as department chair leaves her precious little time for such duties, I managed to talk Kelly into helping me with tagging the problems from Calculus I worksheets. After a little over a month, we had a finished project! Thanks, Kelly!

I should warn the casual reader that the files are straight-up LaTeX and so are not easy to parse, but there IS a README file. I’ve been asked to make a Word version, which goes against every principle I hold dear, but my Mac laptop just won’t let me copy and paste a giant pdf. Once I remember, I’ll give it a shot on the department PCs. If you’re in math and want to use the worksheet generator in your classes, I highly encourage you to do so, and to add problems if you are inclined, but I should warn you that we only did single-variable Calculus since multivariable seems impossible without slowing the pace of your course to a crawl. Then again, is sacrificing breadth of knowledge for depth really what we want to be doing in academia? That’s a topic for the next blog post!