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The NSF STEP Project at the University of South Florida

Dr. Kandethody Ramachandran visited Xavier University of Louisiana to discuss the details and accomplishments of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) Project at the University of South Florida (USF). Dr. Ramachandran described how methods were instituted that effectively advanced student success in Calculus. The STEP project at USF is based on the premise that success in calculus is the gateway to success in the STEM fields. STEP is aimed at increasing STEM graduates through intervention programs in the Engineering and Life Science Calculus sequences. Through this project, several transportable strategies such as, one stop extended hour tutoring lab (STEM Mart), project-based teaching, and peer leading have been developed and implemented. These multiple strategies have transformed the teaching of calculus at USF and are leading to increased retention and pass rates for students. Also, faculty are enthusiastic in implementing these strategies in their class rooms. STEM Mart is a tutoring center that provides undergraduate students in the STEM disciplines an opportunity to receive free tutoring from other successful undergraduate students selected by the program. In project based teaching, “bridge” projects were introduced into Engineering Calculus II and III and Life Sciences Calculus II. Students work with a faculty member or supervisor in their workplace to define a problem, write and analyze appropriate equations, and write a narrative report – in essence, they write a story problem, and then answer it and write it up as a scientific report. In peer leading, a curriculum of inquiry-based activities was developed that follows the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. Undergraduate peer leaders lead weekly, 50-minute guided-inquiry sessions in Engineering and Life Science Calculus I. The curricula developed by faculty and graduate students focus on guiding students to discover concepts of calculus prior to lecture, along with algebra and trigonometry warm-ups. These strategies have proven successful with an overall pass rate that went from about 50-55% before project inception to about 70-73% by the end of six years.

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