Camping Out in Calculus Class

Students who pass the Calculus Prep Camp exam can bypass pre-calculus and go directly into calculus classes.
The goal of the Calculus Prep Camp is to help students bypass a pre-calculus class, which usually is required before a student can take any calculus course.

By Shawn Ryan

Since eighth grade, Zoe Hubbard has known she wanted to design video games but not for late-night bouts of “Fortnite” or “League of Legends.”

She wants her games to help people with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, ADHD and other brain-based conditions. Studies have shown that activities in a virtual world can help with memory, comprehension, awareness and, in turn, overall physical and emotional health.

First, though, the games must be fun, she said.

“You can use video games as a form of education, and a lot of the educational games out there aren’t that good, so you kind of tune out and don’t learn much,” said Hubbard, who plans to major in computer science this fall semester as a freshman at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Her lifetime goal is the reason she enrolled in the Calculus Prep Camp this summer at UTC.

“All coding runs on basic calculus,” said Hubbard, who graduated from Renaissance High School in Franklin, Tenn.

Now in its second year, the camp is a collaboration between the UTC Department of Mathematics and College of Engineering and Computer Science. Although it’s a two-week summer camp, no one is eating warm s’mores or making macaroni art, although stringing together the numeric beads needed to solve calculus equations could be considered an art form since not everyone has the talent.

Its goal is to help students bypass a pre-calculus class, which usually is required before a student can take any calculus course. Most math, engineering and computer science students must take calculus to earn their degree.

At the end of the prep camp, students–who must have an ACT math score of 24 or higher to be accepted–take an exam and, if they pass, can vault straight into college calculus.

All 16 of this summer’s calculus campers were pursuing majors that require calculus, said Tracy Hughes, senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and one of the camp’s instructors.

“We want them to pass the test and be successful, but we also want to make sure that we are truly preparing them,” she said.

“For a lot of their courses, calculus is a prerequisite; so if they don’t start in their freshman year in Calculus One, that means there’s a whole slew of classes that they can’t take until their sophomore year,” Hughes explained.

This summer, all the campers were incoming UTC freshmen, but that’s not a requirement.

Camp is free, and so are housing and meals if the students live on campus during the two weeks. Costs are covered by the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

The camp includes classroom lessons, lectures, practice and homework using computer-based software. Students also take chaperoned trips around campus and downtown Chattanooga.

There’s more to attending the camp than avoiding a single course. Not having to take pre-calculus can save UTC students about $1,650 each in tuition and fees.

The world has calculus–the mathematical study of multiple changing variables–to thank for solutions to its engineering and computer problems, but it’s not for everybody. For non-math people, a classroom lesson might sound like it’s being taught in the language of planet Saywhat.

“What happens if we have this time-compounding equality? We’re going to have to add six. All of the sides, right? So then we’re going have negative three less than or equal to four B less than and, if I add six over here, we get 18, yeah?” Hughes asks.

Phrases like “compounding equality,” “improper fraction” and “interval notation” crop up.

Levi Miller understands the lessons well enough to correct Hughes on a couple of points. He’s right, she admits.

A graduate of Sequatchie County High School in Dunlap, Tenn., he’s known since sixth grade that he wanted to be a civil engineer, he said. He’s not completely sure how calculus combines with civil engineering, he just knows it does.

“I need at least some calculus-based knowledge,” he said.

With a plan to graduate in four years, taking pre-calculus would slow that goal, he said.

“I’ve got to keep my credit hours all up, so pre-calculus just would leave me behind.”