Getting Creative With Calculus
Throughout their curricula at Clemson, many students find themselves required to take at least one calculus class to earn their degrees. While these classes are useful, many students will drop the courses (and subsequently change their majors) or simply will not understand how the math is applicable to their fields of study. Drs. Ellen Breazel and Marilyn Reba of the mathematical sciences department are developing a Creative Inquiry focused on calculus in biomedicine that gives a practical application to biomedical math. The Creative Inquiry itself is part of a larger group of four Creative Inquiries funded by the National Science Foundation, each with a separate focus on orthopedics, disease epidemiology, health hazards from arc-flash and mammography and radiology. Their goal is to give students a larger picture of the purpose of calculus outside of the classroom.
"Our hope is that they have a renewed sense of applications toward their calculus in particular," stated Breazel. The students in the Creative Inquiry are given background information in epidemiology and then follow the information with hands-on activities using models and games. The Creative Inquiry moves beyond classroom activities by including visits to the Center for Disease Control, orthopedics lab and Greenville hospital system, giving students the opportunity to speak with professionals working in these environments. Reba said, "We are also excited that our students, through projects produced in this Creative Inquiry course on Epidemiology and Calculus, are contributing to the development of an interactive instructional mobile app to be downloadable on iTunes."
The Creative Inquiry has managed to make calculus more tangible to the students, and the possibility of expanding the program seems very likely. Currently, Breazel and Reba hope to expand the program to other concepts such as computer science. Other universities, including Georgia Southern, Emory and UNC Wilmington have shown interest in doing their own modules. With these movements toward practical applications of math, calculus seems to be working its way toward becoming a more popular subject among students.