Teaching, Learning & Technology
Sharing best practices from faculty around the world who are using technology to transform teaching and learning.

Making Calculus Engaging and Relevant at Diablo Valley College

Tweet this!

Calculus is a "gatekeeper" course for many technical degrees, and failing calculus often results in dreams denied. Thankfully, many of the HP Technology for Teaching grant recipients have redesigned the calculus learning experience, with measurable improvements in student academic success. Professor Despina Prapavessi at Diablo Valley College is among the innovators who are changing the "calculus" of learning ...

Diablo Valley College is a community college in Northern California. Like most community colleges in the US, a large number of students are "non-traditional", often working full or part-time while attending school. Some are attending community college as a lower cost alternative to the first few years of university; some are returning to college to open new career opportunities.

Dr. Prapavessi took on the challenge of improving her Calculus class as part of her original 2005 HP Technology for Teaching grant. A subsequent HP Technology for Teaching Leadership grant, along with additional federal grants, have allowed the project to expand.

The project is called "Calculus with Tablet PCs", and as described on their website, the experience includes the following elements:

  • Students record data in science labs and analyze it using Calculus techniques.

  • The wireless network allows the use of Mathematica notebooks and Java applets in class.

  • A class website is used for collaboration and communication.

  • Students give cutting edge presentations using the free handwriting features of the Tablets.

  • Classroom Presenter allows students to send their input instantly, thus facilitating communication of ideas, enhancing team learning and easing the barriers of traditional student-teacher interactions.

When I visited Dr. Prapavessi early on in the implementation of the project, she explained some of the emerging evidence. Apparently the first effect that was noticeable was that when the bell rang and class was over, no one would leave. Now THAT is evidence of student engagement!

The net result of the work in her calculus class is described on their website. Not surprisingly, the lowest performing students benefitted the most:

The 2005 implementation of the project showed significant results and impact on student learning.  Repeatedly in the classes taught with the redesign, the PI observed a 98% attendance rate, along with an 86% retention (up from~75%) and a 78% success rate (up from ~69%). Student involvement increased significantly and at least 17% of the students improved their performance by 1-2 letter grades once technology was introduced. 

Four years later, the story continues to unfold. As I mentioned in an earlier blog posting about shifts in the Culture of Teaching, faculty at Diablo Valley College who are joining the project are also experiencing a new wave of collaboration. Again, from their website:

As instructors become aware of the many alternate possibilities to deliver the course content and begin to experiment and implement new strategies and activities, the dynamics in the classroom change markedly.  Students become more involved with their learning and develop a deeper understanding for the concepts and theory taught; they experience the satisfaction of inquiry and scientific discovery and learn to work successfully in teams and form strong bonds with their peers.  Instructors collaborate in finding and developing resources that help support the dynamic delivery of the course content.  Tablet technology has empowered a collaboration between four mathematics departments  to promote improvements in teaching and learning. 

So we see yet again, that student success and faculty collaboration are intertwined. I suspect it is more than just a correlation.

More information is available on their website. If you teach mathematics and are interested in using Mathematica software, be sure to check out their page of resources that includes class activities, Mathematica notebooks, and links to applets - all freely available for you to leverage:


Congratulations to Despina Prapavessi and her colleagues at Diablo Valley College! Keep up the great work - and thanks for sharing...

Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Worldwide Education Programs
HP Global Social Investment

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Global Social Investments, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants


Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Do you mean 
Follow Us

About the Author(s)
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
The opinions expressed above are the personal opinions of the authors, not of HP. By using this site, you accept the Terms of Use and Rules of Participation.