Learning Calculus in a Month

Posted in: Academics | 1

I love math and science, and one of my biggest concerns about Quest was how I would learn something like calculus — which takes an entire year to get through in high school — in just a month. Earlier this year Janali wrote a blog about learning chemistry on the block plan, and how each hour of class is equivalent to about a week of high school Chem. I had heard this same comparison coming into Quest, and was terrified about what this meant for a math class. Though I love math, it does not necessarily come easy to me, and I felt as though I struggled to understand everything at the pace we went in high school, so to learn a weeks worth in 3 hours would surely be impossible.

However, Quests unique approach to education does not only extend to changing the hours and scheduling of classes. It is a fundamental revamping of the educational system, and this extends to math classes like calculus 1 and calculus 2 as well. Rather than being lectured for 3 hours each day, the first hour or so of class was spent doing individual presentations of the previous nights homework. This allowed students to master the material by teaching it to others, as they have to explain their rational for why they proceeded in the way that they did on each step. After homework presentations, our tutor, Sarah Mayes-Tang,

Credit: Geoffry David Thomas
Credit: Geoffry David Thomas

would introduce the next subject. This was often done by a breakout activity, in which students get together in small groups and (in this case) try to figure out a problem. Sarah structured her breakout activities in a way that we were essentially discovering the next step in our calculus learning on our own. Her questions guided us to think critically about what we already know about math, and push our own understanding further and further. After the breakout activity, we gathered as a class and discussed what we discovered. Only at this point would Sarah introduce the notation and simpler way of doing whatever we had just discovered. In this way, I felt I had a much deeper understanding of the “why” behind equations and rules in calculus.

It was two of the hardest months in terms of learning for me, but I feel as though I have a better understanding of mathematics than I have ever had before. It also answered an important question for me in my personal evaluation of Quest as well, in that learning semester longer course is possible in the block program, you just might have to approach it in a fundamentally different way.

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