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Special Math Courses Better Prepare Students for Careers

11/8/2011 —

Two mathematicians at Penn State DuBois have created special topic enrichment courses to supplement the curriculum of those students required to complete the full sequence of math courses offered at the campus.  Professor Richard Brazier, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Geoscience, and John Tolle, instructor in mathematics, each designed courses tailored to the needs of Penn State DuBois students. 


"Each of us has created a one-credit course to be taken alongside the second semester of calculus, or at any time thereafter.  We have a lot of engineering students who can benefit from the deeper study of certain calculus methods," Tolle said. "These courses are optional, but one incentive is that you'll get prior exposure, or deeper exposure, to certain methods you'll have to learn anyway in your required courses."


Each course meets once a week for two hours.  During the first hour the students themselves orally present solutions to the problems assigned the previous week.  The grade is based solely on participation.  "The atmosphere is nice, too," said Tolle. "Rick and I are both there and the discussion is very open.  Having students present their solutions to the group improves their confidence and communication ability, an important career skill." 


Seven students signed up for the spring semester 2011 course.  The feedback from students was very positive.  Tolle explained, "I collected anonymous comments from students on index cards.  They all had wonderful things to say about how much they learned, how much fun it was, and how they would recommend the course to others."


Tolle's course dealt with numerical series, with an emphasis on what are called "p series".  Students learned how to explicitly evaluate these series when it is possible, and why it is sometimes impossible.  Brazier's course, to run in spring 2012, will explore partial fraction decomposition, a standard topic in second-semester calculus, but one which is not typically covered to such depth.  


For more information on courses at Penn State DuBois, contact (814) 375-4720, or duboisinfo@psu.edu


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