equations written on blackboard

Calculus Study Group – The Value Of Teaching And More Lessons

This is one of my favorite memories because it was such a success.

I attended Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho from 1986-1989. I was studying Computer Science.

One of the classes we had to take was Calculus. We had to get a C or better to count as passing. And we had to pass all three semesters (if I remember right) of the course.

I did not do well in math in high school, despite my love of computers and excellence in programming. I thought I hated math.

I took first semester Calculus and got a C-. I figured that was good enough.  It was a C, right? And C was passing. I didn\’t realize that the rule was strict, a C or better, not a C-. This would come back to bite me later.

But I continued on and the next semester I took second semester Calculus. I struggled even more and scraped by with a D+.

Now, even I knew this wasn\’t passing.  And to stay in Computer Science,  I had to pass.

I cried, but buckled down and retook second semester calculus my third semester at Ricks.

The first test didn\’t go well. I did not understand calculus and was doing terribly even my second time around.

The second test was even worse.

I don\’t remember when exactly, but early on in the semester I realized something had to change. If I just continued the way I was going, I was just going to fail again.

So, I had an idea. I wasn\’t the only one struggling in class, maybe we could form a study group.

So that\’s what I did. I started a study group. Class was early in the morning (7am) and everyone had other classes to go to and of course the room was used by other classes. But most of those classes met in the morning and early afternoon.

So I set up my study group to meet every weekday (class met 5 days a week too) at 4pm when the room was free and unused for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

It started with just a few students, but we met religiously every day.

During the study group we would do the homework for the day. Each person would take one problem and do it on the board (real chalkboards back then), teaching everyone how to solve  the problem eventhough they didn\’t know how to do it themselves.  The others in the study group would listen and help the person at the board.

We continued around the room, each person taking their turn at the chalkboard. Around and around we went until all the homework was done.  This usually took us about 4 hours.

We were a dedicated group, we met religiously 4 hours a day 5 days a week.

And it paid off! Everyone in the group started passing the tests and soon we were all getting As on every test.  And, most importantly, we were all understanding calculus, not just being able to do the problems but understanding it, because we were teaching it.

The professor noticed this and started recommending our study group to other students. It paid off for them too, within one or two tests they were also getting As and understanding this subject they had struggled with so much.

In fact, everyone who joined our study group by at least the middle of the semester got an A in the class, despite how they may have been doing before they joined our group. And anyone who joined our study group later started getting As on tests and pulled their grade up even if they couldn\’t make it to an A in the class.

We continued this study group into the third semester of Calculus and again we all got As and understood this subject.

We continued this study group into the next level, Differential Equations, but attendance started dropping off. Most people were understanding it easily, and Differential Equations is comparatively easy once you understand the foundations (ie. Calculus).

I didn\’t actually need to take Differential Equations for my CS major, but I chose to because I was enjoying math so much – a major change from high school and my first two semesters of college.  I ended up graduating with my associates degree in both majors, Computer Science and Mathematics.

When graduation time came, though, and my grades were reviewed, it was discovered that I hadn\’t technically passed first semester Calculus. Remember that C- … it wasn\’t passing and the rule was strict. The review board wanted to deny me, but the mathematics professors who were on the review board voted for an exception as they knew I understood calculus after my study group and all I had done to learn it and help others to learn it. They wrote up the exception and I graduated!

This was all such a great experience for me. I learned so much, not just the Calculus, but also, the value of teaching something even if you don\’t fully understand it, the importance to keep trying even when you seem to be failing – you will succeed if you keep going -, how to try different things until you find the thing that works, and so much more.

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