Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Free Calculus Text

R. Wright mentioned this text, Calculus in Context, in the comments at dy/dan's. I had a copy of this book shortly after it came out, and I didn't know what to do with it. I think it might be great, but I couldn't use it back then.

I remember wanting to use groups and projects, and not knowing how. Maybe I'm a particularly slow learner, but I think most people have deeply imprinted on the classes they were students in, and use those as models for their teaching.

I'd like to try to get a print copy and see if I can use it now. Does anyone here have any experience with this text? What do you think?


I posted this too soon. I'm reading the pdf, and I'm so intrigued. This text uses a radically different organization than the standard course, so I don't know if I could use it at my school. But I definitely want to read the whole thing now.

Here's a quote from the Handbook for Instructors:
If you ask typical students what mathematics is about, they are likely to deny that it is about anything. They perceive mathematics as existing in a world of its own, with its own rules, having little to do with any questions they might be interested in. The so-called “applications” that are provided, almost always after the mathematics has been completely worked out, are often transparently artificial and do little to convince skeptical students that mathematics has anything to say about the world in which they live. We feel much of the low regard the general public currently has for mathematics arises from treating mathematics as a strictly technical discipline, responsive only to its own internal logic and structure.

Historically, though, much of calculus arose as a tool to explore questions in the sciences—including, of course, other branches of mathematics. Our students need to see this connection throughout as they learn the material, not just as an optional afterthought appended to the mathematics.


  1. We currently have a AP Calculus course, but next year, I will be piloting a non-AP Calc course. Since I will have a good bit of leeway in what I do, this book might just be perfect! Thanks!

  2. You're welcome! I would love to hear how it goes.

    I might be able to use some of this material in our pre-calc course, which I'll be teaching in the fall.

  3. Hi Sue,

    I have been thinking about Callahan's textbook for six years now. I would love to use it, but it is difficult to do in a large-ish department with a common textbook.

    Please blog about it if you ever use it---this book intrigues me (there has GOT to be a better way of teaching calculus, and this might be it).

  4. I'm sure I will (blog about anything new I do).

    I am realizing, this first week of my summer 'vacation', how important blogging is to me. It's such a blessing to be able to write about the things I'm thinking about, and get responses from other thoughtful educators.

    Suddenly the months of summer are pure professional development. (It makes me so happy...)

  5. These responses are encouraging. I hope to see the text's approach to introducing calculus gain popularity in the future. When I stumbled across the text myself a couple of years ago, I was dismayed that I had never heard of it.

  6. Until the rise of the mathblogosphere, you would have heard of a textbook mainly because a publisher was pushing it. Something different like this doesn't get the same airplay as the standard books.

    Also, regardless of how good it is, it would take a big commitment from a math department to switch over to something like this. I'd expect to put in over 10 extra hours a week to do something like this right the first time.


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