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Jan. 16, 2001

CONTACT: Jack Narayan, 312-3692

SUNY OSWEGO MATH PROFESSOR FIGURES INTO NATIONAL PRE-CALCULUS REFORM

OSWEGO -- Jack Narayan wants to make pre-calculus courses more interesting to current and future students. And he's not alone.

Narayan, SUNY Oswego's dean of graduate studies and a distinguished teaching professor of mathematics, serves as a principal investigator for a National Science Foundation program seeking pre-calculus reform. With the help of a $99,165 NSF grant and a $10,000 grant from the Calculus Consortium for Higher Education, Narayan and instructors from across the country are trying to make this subject more engaging to learners.

According to the group, each year about 700,000 college students take some form of pre-calculus, but only between 15 and 20 percent proceed to take calculus, either mainstream calculus for math-intensive majors or specialized calculus offerings for students in areas such as life sciences or business.

"A major challenge is how to motivate students to want to learn mathematics in those early courses," Narayan noted. "We need to make the material more engaging, more relevant, more applicable to solving real-world problems."

A major Mathematics Association of America initiative has started to redefine courses in college algebra to better reflect the needs of the students who take such courses, not merely to prepare a relative handful for calculus, Narayan said.

Narayan and his counterparts said they believe that a calculus reform movement back in the 1980s has paid dividends, but they also acknowledged that the challenge of engaging people in this field will take additional effort.

The national pre-calculus reform officially gained momentum when 55 mathematics educators gathered in Crystal City, Va., in October. Initial goals included setting principles for changing pre-calculus offerings, developing a cohesive effort among those who have done ground-breaking work in this area, and publishing the workshop proceedings.

Narayan moderated a panel discussion on "Rethinking the Preparation for Calculus" at the joint meeting of the Mathematical Association of America and the American Mathematical Society from Jan. 5 to 10 in San Diego where results of the October conference were shared.

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