Math and Stats Subtracts Math 26 From Curriculum

Beginning in Fall 2019, the Department of Mathematics and Statistics stopped offering Math 26 which covered advanced topics in single-variable calculus.The department began offering the course, designed by Professor Thomas Hunter, in 2004. 

Math 26, which bridged the gap between Math 25 (Single-Variable Calculus 2) and Math 27 (Linear Algebra), was meant to offer an intermediate experience to students who placed out of Math 25 but did not have enough experience to take higher level math courses. Specifically, the class covered series and sequences, which are absent from the AP Calculus AB curriculum but are necessary knowledge for higher-level classes. Since the elimination of Math 26, The Department of Mathematics and Statistics has begun to offer more sections of Math 25 and Math 27 to accommodate higher levels of enrollment in those classes.

Professor Aimee Johnson, the chair of the department of mathematics and statistics, said that the Department of Mathematics and Statistics no longer offers Math 26 because of changes in the AP Calculus AB curriculum that did not align with the Math 26 curriculum.

“Our recent review of the AP Calculus curriculum revealed that the AB Calculus curriculum has changed significantly in the intervening years, and no longer covered a good portion of the techniques and applications a student typically sees in second-semester Calculus … that is what caused the elimination of Math 26,” she wrote in an email to The Phoenix.

Johnson also said that students will likely be better-prepared for upper-level math courses with the elimination of Math 26.

“Because of how the AP AB Calculus curriculum has changed over the years, it used to be that students placed in Math 26 missed material that would be useful to them in later classes. For instance, multivariable calculus could be quite challenging for a student who had only had a brief and cursory introduction to integrals in high school but yet placed into Math 26. We expect that our students will now be [better] prepared and more successful in their later math classes.”

Math 26 was many students’ introduction to college-level math courses. According to Johnson, the course’s difficulty left a lasting impression on math majors both because of its content and because students may not have previously experienced courses with that level of mathematical rigor.

“Many of our majors have said that the most challenging mathematical experience they have is when they first learn about sequences and series. This material used to come at the beginning of Math 26, so I imagine it left quite an impression on an incoming student,” she said.

Students have varying opinions on Math 26 and its role in their preparation for future math classes. Jake Chanenson ’21, a math minor who took Math 26 in Fall 2017 with Professor Thomas Hunter, had a positive experience andis disappointed that the class was cut because he believes it to be an important math class.

“I personally think it’s a shame that the department cut it … I thought it was definitely very formative for me with my math education at Swarthmore, and is one of the reasons why I continue to take math. I hope if the department has the ability, they will reinstate the course at a later time,” he said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that Math 26 was a demanding course that many, including math majors and clinicians, found difficult.

“When I was in Math 26 … and I would talk to students who were upperclassmen … they would tell me that in their math career, Math 26 was one of the harder classes they’ve taken. I would agree. I think that the course asked a lot from you … Most people who took it, it was their first experience with college math. So I think that some of that difficulty was because you’re transitioning to college math, but also some of that difficulty is because you’re covering some pretty advanced concepts at a high level.”

Kevin Dee ’22, an engineering major who took Math 26 in Fall 2018 with Professor Josh Goldwyn, found Math 26 to be difficult because of the pacing of the course.

“The exams were pretty difficult, and they didn’t seem proportionate to the homework or what was in class. And the class moved really quickly, which made it difficult to keep up with … It might be the most difficult math course that I’ll ever take at Swarthmore.”

Dee agreed with Chanenson’s sentiment that part of Math 26’s difficulty came from it being many first years’ introduction to college math.

“I can’t imagine anyone who knew what they were getting into would take that course … It was like a course that a bunch of freshmen got placed into, and they took it because that’s what the placement exam said. And I got the impression that a lot of people had regretted taking the course and wished they just took 25 instead.”

According to Johnson, in the coming semesters, the department will evaluate the impact of Math 26’s elimination. The college also recently allowed the department to hire a new statistics professor, which will allow for more variety in terms of higher-level math courses.“These results, along with continued review of the AP curriculum, may lead to us adjusting our offerings once again,” Johnson said. “We are happy to receive student feedback about this change outside of our data collection efforts as well.”

Anatole Shukla

Anatole Shukla '22 is an Editor Emeritus of The Phoenix. He is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and studied economics, linguistics, and Russian language while at Swarthmore.

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