Calculus Camp

Today I welcome a guest blogger. Robert Vriesman writes about his Calculus Camp. The annual camp is a great review technique. I was honored to be invited this year and had a great time helping the kids. Thank you Robert for the Blog and the weekend with your students

Many high schools around the nation have only eight to fifteen kids taking Calculus in any given school year. So what are the teachers at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) doing differently along with generous help from professors, math professionals, and some parents doing to attract upwards of 200 students to take Calculus each year? The answer…Calculus Camp!

Calculus Camp was first organized by me fourteen years ago when I was LACES Department Chair. The camp began with only forty students and just a handful of teachers, but the excitement generated by the opportunity to go to camp to help them prepare for the College Board Advanced Placement Test increased the number of students taking Calculus each year. The past three years LACES has had over 200 students taking Advanced Placement mathematics.

LACES was already a high-achieving school, but this did not mean there are not a lot of challenges. The camp was large scale effort requiring a large scale commitment on the part of the mathematics department. Our objectives of our Calculus Camp are:
• to create a support structure necessary to make high achievement by all AP mathematics students a reality.
• to enhance all students’ achievement by creating an environment that would cause them to take a new look at higher levels of mathematics.
• to build a mathematics program so strong and inviting that a large percentage of students-perhaps even every student-could be prepared to successfully complete challenging mathematics courses such as calculus before leaving LACES.
• to further increase participation in Advanced Placement Mathematics classes and to improve the pass rate of our students taking Advanced Placement Mathematics classes.
• to provide an opportunity for students to meet and work with people actively involved in a career in mathematics.

The students load the buses at noon on a Thursday to travel to Calculus Camp in the San Gabriel Mountains 90 minutes north of Los Angeles. The students are kept quite busy over the course of the weekend with two study sessions on Thursday, and three each on Friday and Saturday. Over the weekend they put in as many as 24 hours doing Calculus. They take a mock test on Sunday morning as a way of gauging their progress over the course of the weekend.

Teachers from LACES, other teachers, professors, and professional mathematicians are invited to come to Calculus Camp to help the students of LACES. Dr. Michael Raugh of Harvey Mudd College (retired), Dr. Kyran Mish formerly of the University of Oklahoma, and Dr. D. Lewis Mingori of UCLA (retired) have come back year after year to help the LACES students. This past year Lin McMullin attended the LACES Calculus Camp for the first time! Former colleagues of mine C. Dean Becker and Ken Bailey have also been a huge help over the years. This interaction with the adult professionals is something that is different from the ordinary in their lives. The benefit to the students is not measurable in a traditional sense, but it is undeniable for all those that see it working during the weekend. The past few years has seen an increase in the number of former LACES students who return to Calculus Camp to help the current LACES students. These former students returning to Calculus Camp is a testament to what the camp has meant to their lives.

The students work in groups of four or five; the teachers and mentors respond when a group needs assistance. It is the other students in the group that are the first resource. Teachers act not as a tutor, but as a mentor ready to help a group of students who are working together on a problem with a direction or a suggestion, not necessarily with a solution. This group of students is sitting in a room with other groups of students working on other problems; a community all working together to the same end. They gain confidence from the group experience to be able later to go it alone.

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In between the study sessions there is lots of interaction among students, teachers, and mentors. Those at the camp see and feel the intangible benefits these students derive from the camp experience from this interaction. It was great to see an actuary named Alejandro Ortega playing volleyball with a group of students and to hear Nick Mitchell (a retired actuary) explain to a group of students at lunch explain just what Actuarial Science is. To see the college professors interact with high school students, to see the students asking them questions in a comfortable setting in not an everyday occurrence.

What has all this meant to the students of the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies? We have had many more students go into fields involving mathematics than in the previous years. There are at least three students who went to college intending to study Actuarial Science in the past two years alone. Our pass rate has improved dramatically on the College Board Advanced Placement Calculus Tests. More students are taking Precalculus courses than ever before because they too want to go to Calculus Camp. Out of a department of nine mathematics teachers, five different teachers are teaching a total of seven Advanced Placement Mathematics classes.

On Sunday morning the students take a mock AP test to demonstrate to themselves what they learned. It gets them fully aware of the testing format and the length of various sections of the exam so there are no surprises on the day of the actual AP test.

There is plenty of fun built into the schedule as well. There is a bonfire on Thursday night, and a concert on Friday night and a talent show on Saturday night. This year I invited a friend from mine from college days, Sgt. Major Woodrow English, U.S. Army (Ret.), who was the principal trumpet in the U.S. Army band in Washington, D.C. for 30 years to play a concert on Friday night (and reveille every morning). English came all the way from Virginia to attend the camp this year. The music he provided seemed to “set the tone” for the students. Listening to a world class musician and working with world class mathematicians inspired the students to work hard and to give their best. And “Woody” gained a new appreciation for teachers and their dedication to their students.

If you have questions about starting your own Calculus Camp contact me, Robert Vriesman, at rvriesman@hotmail.com.

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