Friday, November 30, 2012

Good Calculus Textbook?

My department will be looking for a new calculus textbook over the next few months. We used to use Stewart, but there was some discontent, and we switched in part due to the high price. We've been using Briggs for about two years, and are very unhappy with it. So we want to switch again.

I asked a month and a half ago for a good discrete math text, and Josh suggested Discrete Math With Ducks. It looks fun, and was inexpensive compared to what we had been using. I'm excited that my request for suggestions panned out. (Thanks, Josh!) I'll have more to say about that next semester when I start teaching from it.

That was a decision I got to make on my own. The calculus textbook will be a group decision. The rest of the department will want a more conventional textbook than what I might want. I'm willing to work with whatever textbook we use, but I'm dreaming now of writing my own. (That will take a few years...)

What we didn't like in Briggs:
  • The exercises often jumped too quickly to very hard problems
  • There's nothing on centroids (until multivariable)

Hmm, I know there's more - I'll have to add to that list next week after our department meeting. I'd like to bring suggestions to the meeting, though. Have any of you used a calculus textbook that you love? Do any of you know of a complete textbook (for Calc I, II, and III, ie going through multivariable calculus) that's under $100?

My department doesn't seem interested in open source textbooks, and the two I used this semester weren't impressive enough for me to want to push it. I love the projects in Boelkins, but that only works if you want to teach through projects. The Guichard made some odd choices. I think any open source book will have more of its own personality than the commercial books. That could be fine, but I haven't seen one yet that will cover all the bases for us.



  1. I like Strang's book. And there's a paper version that's not ridiculously pricey, as well as

    I couldn't convince my former colleagues to switch to it, though I didn't argue too hard because I wasn't teaching calculus then.

  2. I just asked them for an examination copy (not sure they offer this). I didn't use his stuff this semester because the pdf is a photocopy - hard for me to read. I'm hoping I'll get to read it more carefully soon.

  3. Depending on your department size, you can always pick a book and then ask the students to track down the previous version. Old versions of textbooks can usually be found online for under $10 (after shipping). The book companies (and possibly your campus bookstore) might not like it, but then again, we don't like the prices they charge!

  4. Yes, I have been advising my students of this possibility for the past few years. (I will emphasize it even more if we go back to Stewart.)

  5. I would take a look at the CPM Calculus course. CPM's work is rich with problems set up so that students not only have a chance to do their own thinking, they must. I have been using their precalculus textbook and love it.

  6. CPM stands for College Preparatory Mathematics. I don't think we can use it at college level, even if it's perfect. But I should probably look it over for project ideas to supplement whatever text we do choose.

    What I see on their front page looks pretty cool. I love graphs for stories, with the numbers left out. But the very first part of the sample problem is badly written. They say Rio is cooling down in the spring. But of course it's not. It's cooling down during our spring, and warming up during its own spring (which is fall here). They could have labeled it as the months of March to June to make the problem accurate.

    I hope math encourages people to think precisely, and this oversight bothers me. It feels parochial.


    Ok. I've written to them about it. Relevant portion copied here:

    ... I like the idea of the story graphs in the sample problem shown on the front page.

    However, I have a problem with the first one. The x-axis is labeled 'time of year in spring'. But what was really meant was 'March to June'. It is not spring then in Rio, it is fall. Calling it spring amounts to looking at the world through a U.S.- centric (or at least Northern Hemisphere - centric) lens. Not the sort of habit of mind I'd like to encourage in my students.

    Perhaps you can fix this?


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