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The Effects of a Calculus Course Based on the Computer Algebra System Mathematica on Subsequent Calculus Dependent Undergraduate Course Performance

A. Bustamante Arias
Journal / Anthology

Thesis, Southern Illinois University
Year: 1991

This study tested the hypothesis that the students who learned calculus through a calculus course based on the computer algebra system Mathematica would perform better, in subsequent courses which have calculus as a prerequisite, than students who learned calculus through the traditional chalkboard and paper-and-pencil approach of the lecture method. The study involved 241 freshmen and sophomore students from a large midwestern research university. The students were selected from a total of approximately 900 students enrolled, during the Fall semester of 1990, in 41 sections of two calculus courses of different level. From the 241 subjects of the study, 112 enrolled in traditional lecture method sections. The remaining 129 subjects enrolled in sections that approached the teaching of calculus by means of an extensive use of the computer algebra system Mathematica. The 59 students of the four Mathematica-based sections of the calculus course of higher level constituted an experimental group. A corresponding control group was formed with 59 randomly selected students from the thirty sections that used the traditional approach to calculus instruction. The experimental group performed better in both cases when final grades in two subsequent courses, calculus and physics, which had calculus as as a prerequisite, were compared statistically. The seventy students of the four Mathematica-based sections of the calculus course of lower level formed the experimental group for the second course. The corresponding control group was constituted by the 52 subjects enrolled in the three sections that delivered traditional calculus instruction. The two groups were compared by means of final grades in a physics course that had calculus or concurrent enrollment as a prerequisite. It found a nonsignificant difference in the mean grades of the two groups in this case. The results showed that the experimental group that performed significantly better than the control group was formed by students who had received basic calculus instruction before the Mathematica-based calculus course. Suggestions were made for further research.