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Curriculum Renewal Across the First Two Years

The stereotype of the mathematics community as aloof--perhaps even a tad condescending--towards other disciplines and their mathematical needs is not uncommon among our science and social science colleagues. Fortunately a major MAA effort that is underway challenges this stereotype: a series of disciplinary workshops known as the Curriculum Foundations Project.

The CF Project is part of a major MAA review of the undergraduate programs in mathematics. The MAA’s Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics (CUPM) is currently studying the undergraduate curriculum, taking into account the views of a broad segment of the mathematics community and its partner disciplines. The goal is a document that will assist mathematics departments as they plan their programs through the first decade of the 21st century. Past CUPM recommendations have strongly influenced undergraduate mathematics instruction. Future recommendations should have similar influence.

Given the impact of mathematics instruction’especially instruction during the first two years’on the sciences and quantitative social sciences, there is a need for significant input from these partner disciplines. Hence the CUPM Subcommittee on Calculus Reform And the First Two Years (CRAFTY) is gathering the necessary information through a series of eleven disciplinary workshops.

These workshops, listed in the accompanying display box, comprise the heart of the Curriculum Foundations Project. They contribute to the foundational materials from which recommendations for the first two years of college mathematics will be constructed.

Each workshop is focused on a particular partner discipline such as physics or computer science, or on a group of related disciplines such as the health-related life sciences. The goal of each workshop is to obtain a clear, concise statement of what students in that area need to learn in their first two years of college mathematics.

The workshops are not intended to be dialogues between mathematics and the partner disciplines. Instead, each workshop is a dialogue between representatives of the discipline under consideration, with mathematicians present merely to listen to the discussions and to provide information on current curriculum trends in mathematics. For this reason, the majority of the twenty to thirty individuals invited to participate in each workshop are from the partner disciplines.

The major product of a CF workshop is a ten-page report summarizing the recommendations and conclusions of the workshop. It is written by the representatives of the partner discipline, directed towards the mathematics community, and addresses a series of questions formulated by CRAFTY. Uniformity of style is achieved across the reports by using essentially the same set of questions for each workshop. Having a common list of questions also aids in comparing the reports of different workshops.

The documents so produced will be widely circulated within the specific disciplines as well as the mathematics community in order to solicit a broad range of comments. After such circulation, the reports will be published and used in the formulation of the ultimate CUPM curriculum recommendations. The reports will also be the focus of a Curriculum Foundations Workshop to be held during 2001 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

In addition to their role in the CUPM review, the reports can serve as valuable resources for initiating discussions between mathematics departments and their partner disciplines. Working from electronic versions of the reports currently available, some mathematics departments have already begun using the reports to stimulate interdepartmental discussions of their curriculum. Promoting and supporting informed discussions with the partner disciplines may ultimately be considered the most important outcome of the Curriculum Foundations Project.

The workshops have generated much good will between mathematics and the partner disciplines. In particular, our colleagues from the other disciplines have been extremely grateful’and perhaps a little surprised! ’to be invited by mathematicians to taken seriously.

Project. Although the NSF supplied at least partial support for several of the workshops, the vast majority of the events have been funded entirely by the local hosting institutions. Since travel and lodging expenses are covered for all workshop participants, the host institutions have contributed serious money to the project. We are sincerely grateful for their generosity.

As reported in the January, 2000 issue of FOCUS, the first two workshops were held last Fall at Bowdoin College (Physics and Computer Science) and at West Point (interdisciplinary instruction related to Physics and Engineering). The workshops received some attention from the national media, mostly notably in an article by Mark Clayton of the Christian Science Monitor, This article is still available on the Monitor's web page at Two other workshops have been held since then, with several still to come (see the box on the next page). The project will conclude with an event at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, CA. This final workshop will focus on the preparation of mathematics majors.

The Joint Meetings of the MAA and AMS in New Orleans this January will feature a number of events centered on the Curriculum Foundations Project. In addition to presentations and panel discussions by participants in the workshops, a series of small focus groups will be organized by the CUPM to discuss the CF workshop reports.

Each focus group, comprised of individuals invited in advance, will discuss and analyze the implications of a single CF report. Each report will be considered by at least one focus group, and the insights generated by these discussions will be further input for the CUPM curriculum review.

If you are interested in participating in a focus group, please contact Bill Haver (Virginia Commonwealth University) by email at and indicate the reports in which you are interested.

William Barker is the chair of CRAFTY, the CUPM Subcommittee on Calculus Reform and the First Two Years. He can be contacted at Department of Mathematics, Bowdoin College, 8600 College Station, Brunswick, ME 04011.