Electronic Proceedings of the Eighteenth Annual International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics

Orlando, Florida, March 16-19, 2006

Paper C006

Calculus Computer Laboratory: Experience Guiding Current Practice

Joel P. Lehmann

Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Valparaiso University
Gellersen Engineering - Mathematics Center
1900 Chapel Drive
Valparaiso, IN 46383
Phone: (219) 464-5196
Fax: (219) 464-5065

list of all papers by this author

Click to access this paper: paper.pdf


Valparaiso University has more than three decades' experience with using computers in our calculus classes. Over the years, assignments have changed dramatically as the technology available to students has increased in power and sophistication. Today we teach the classes in a 3+2 hour lecture/laboratory course, with the laboratory assignments designed to complement and extend the work done in class.

This long experience has made us aware of the challenges there are in creating a successful laboratory assignment. These challenges include: make it something that could not be done without the computer but something worth doing, not just busy work; make it challenging enough to maintain interest, but keep it doable; include scope for investigation of open ended questions but include enough groundwork to keep it feasible; structure assignments to stress communication of results, not just a mess of printouts. An overall goal is to get the students to perceive the computer as a benefit and not merely an additional burden.

We will present a current assignment from calculus II with an analysis of how it meets the above challenges. The topics represent a variety of applications of the integral, such as surface area and volume of solids of revolution, set within the context of a consulting report for a contractor. The assignment is software independent. Additional assignments on other Calculus I and II topics will be available.

Keyword(s): calculus, computer labs, Derive