Calculus One

January 12, 2013

Tonight I managed to get 100% on the first quiz from the Coursera Calculus One course. As someone who was a mediocre student overall growing up, and specifically a poor mathematics student, this is huge.

In high school I barely scraped by in Algebra. The rules just never made sense to me. Geometry was different; I loved proofs and theorems. In college my major required that I take "Calculus for Business Majors". I ended up taking the course twice in order to get a passing grade. It was Algebra all over again, only worse.

The part that stung about failing calculus was how stupid it made me feel. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried I just could not get the same answers as were in the book.

After successfully completing the Functional Programming Principles in Scala course last fall, I decided to try my hand at a new way of learning Calculus. What Coursera does is break the material down into smaller chunks. Each subtopic is captured in a short lecture video. You can watch the videos as many times as you want, pause, backup, re-watch. The material in the videos is presented in very engaging ways, and often reiterated multiple times. There are practice problems that come with step by step hints for when you get stuck. When you miss a problem the system presents you with more like it so you can learn. The quizzes can be taken (for this course) 100 times and your highest score will be used.

In short, the course is laid out in a manner that encourages you to learn, that helps you to learn. In school I often felt like I was being punished for not learning rather than being assisted when I failed. My experience this week with functions, domains, and limits in Calculus One has been refreshing and invigorating. I'm sure that there will be times of frustration in the weeks to come, but I feel like I will learn Calculus as a result of this course. Something I never thought I would be able to count among my accomplishments.

Kudos to Coursera.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.