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My students are required to take my subject even though they can't see a use for the subject in their discipline.
Miroslav Lovric, Mathematics and Statistics

I teach introductory calculus courses for students in business, chemistry, kinesiology or health sciences. Some of the students do not know how they will ever use the subject matter once they complete the course.

  • In the beginning of the course, I ask my students to explain, in a few sentences, the reasons why they are taking the course, i.e., how they plan to "use" it. I try to match their interests with examples and applications of ways the subject (in this case calculus) is commonly used.
  • Throughout the course, I try to introduce new material by discussing examples and problems coming from everyday situations in order to explain the reason for this material being included in the course. This is not difficult since calculus is used virtually everywhere. I think this may be possible with any subject area.
  • My aim is to ensure that students get a qualitative grasp of the concepts and ideas used in the course. In order to do this, I often use visual "tools", such as graphs, diagrams or illustrations from other fields. I try to avoid, as much as possible, complicated calculations that do not reveal anything.
  • Mathematics is not about finding the right formula and plugging in numbers to get the right answer. It is about concepts and the use of these concepts in solving problems that we encounter in applications and in everyday life. For example, it doesn't make sense to teach students several integration methods if they do not understand what an integral is.
  • When setting exams, I use questions which test understanding of the material rather than those which test computation skills.
  • I find that students who understand how the subject is used in the "real world" and especially in their discipline, are more willing and able to learn than students who do not have this understanding.
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