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Help! AP Calc – book? tech? organization?

March 19, 2011 pm31 4:07 pm


I am likely teaching two moderately-sized sections (40 – 45 students, combined) of AP Calculus AB next year. I have never taught any level of calculus before. I likely have fairly wide latitude in organizing the course, in choosing materials (possibly including text) and in choosing what technology to go in for.

I am firmly committed to minimizing test prep, to minimizing testing, and to minimizing intrusive technology.

How should I orient myself? Where should I go? What should I read?

And any other advice for starting out, or for consideration between now and then?

Thank you!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2011 pm31 4:27 pm 4:27 pm

    My school uses Rogawski for calculus. I pushed for it: I looked at a ton of different books and chose the one that seemed the least obtuse and most acccessible. The AP Calc teachers at my school like it (though they do tweak it a bit, like emphasizing rectilinear motion more than the book). So I’d recommend checking that book out. (I teach the non-AP Calc course.)

    You can also get an online version — which some of our students have. I have an online version which I can project when we’re going over homework problems.

    In terms of resources that really help you delve, I have a copy of and if I taught the AP Calc classes, I’d be using these in some way. It’s rather fantastic.

  2. March 19, 2011 pm31 4:29 pm 4:29 pm

    Hey, congratulations! Here are some of my suggestions (I taught it before, and will be teaching it again soon).

    1. find a college board summer week-long workshop on AP calculus AB. The instructors give all sorts of advice and materials including several textbooks. That’s been my experience in the past.
    2. log onto the electronic discussion group from college board for AP calculus. People are very helpful in answering question. Also on the college board website, there are resources of past AP exams and such.
    3. I liked to pull from a variety of textbooks for problems. I guess your textbook choice is personal, but 2 or 3 that could be a good core book (in my opinion) would be the Larson text, the Stewart text, or the Smith Minton text. I’d lean towards the Larson.
    4. I guess I’d now suggest the TI-nspire calculator IF the kids had access to them at home. You could also do well with the 84+ or the 89. (did YOU say you didn’t like TI? …. Casio would probably work, but I’m not familiar with it).
    5. spend the summer working the problems. JUST teaching from the text will not get the kids to pass the AP exam, you have to familiarize yourself with they way they ask questions. I think they’re good questions, so I didn’t mind teaching to THAT test.
    6. make sure you keep track and stay on schedule, so that you have an extra month or so at the end to review.
    7. I love Dixie Ross, she has tons of good advice:

    Have fun.

    • April 3, 2011 pm30 9:39 pm 9:39 pm

      I don’t hate the TI technology, as much as I am repulsed by the way they cornered the market, and hate that they seem to drive curricula, and hate that their technology du jour, is really the same thing they’ve been selling for over a decade, with only minor improvement

      I did number 2.

      I am good at #6 in general.

      Kids have three years of 84s – think it is worth sitting tight (despite what I’ve said)

      Text. There’s a problem.

  3. March 19, 2011 pm31 4:36 pm 4:36 pm

    The books I’ve seen all do a lot of review before starting calculus. I’m sure students need that review, but I like to start with slopes of curvy lines, so they can see they’re finally doing something new.

    I’m eager to see the suggestions you get.

  4. March 19, 2011 pm31 9:20 pm 9:20 pm

    Start with Thompson’s Calculus Made Easy. I’m not saying this should be the textbook, just that this would be the first thing I’d read.

  5. March 19, 2011 pm31 10:04 pm 10:04 pm

    Text: Larson or Stewart. Stewart is the more common college text, but Larson is the more HS-friendly. I personally have Larson 7th.
    Hughes-Hallet-Gleason did things in an odd organization, IMNSHO.
    Ostebee-Zora is dense for highschool students.
    Thomas and Finney was cool ten years ago but seems to have fallen out of favor. Don’t know why.

    If you want to stretch your boundaries and go 21st Century on your kids, there are a few online texts. Neat place to start is the California site:
    Some that I found:
    MIT OC:

    Additional toys:
    and of course, Salman Khan on YouTube.

    AP insists you fulfill their audit process – mostly they need a syllabus. Someone at your school may have already fulfilled that requirement — make sure to check. Soon.

    The Summer AP Institute at St. Johnsbury VT is one of the best.

    Click to access AP_Institute_2011.pdf

    The environment is as close as you can get to smart-people nirvana. One week surrounded by a bunch of AP teachers in an informal setting in the Vermont summer. Learn, work, relax, eat REALLY good food, play bocce on the lawn and drink free beer with a slew of brilliant people till dinner. Like you can get better than this? It’s $1100 but worth it … especially if your school will pony up. Skip the dorm and use the savings and a little extra of yours and take your wife — a hotel isn’t much more and it’s a wonderful town. (Me? I was lucky. My wife went to the seminar with me. Our schools covered the costs. Second best vacation we’ve ever taken!)

  6. March 19, 2011 pm31 10:44 pm 10:44 pm

    I’ve been teaching it since mid 90’s. I will be happy to share. The first thing you have to do is submit a curriculum to be approved by College Board. If you want, e-mail me and I will send you mine.

  7. Zulma Villalba permalink
    March 19, 2011 pm31 11:14 pm 11:14 pm


    I have never taught Calculus, only Pre-Calculus. Before I retire I would like to teach Calculus if I should be that lucky. Someone told me that Bob Miller’s Calculus for the Clueless is pretty good.

    I wish you the best.

  8. March 24, 2011 pm31 9:12 pm 9:12 pm

    I’ve had pretty good classroom experiences teaching from Hughes-Hallet et. al. Lots of interesting problems. Not enough skill practice though; you have to supplement if you use it as the main text. I’ve had decent experiences tutoring with Thomas and Finney as well, which doesn’t have that drawback. Neither of these is exactly like a burning recommendation but both books strike me as decent basic frameworks around which to hang a course. (Whenever I taught the course, though, I postponed the integral until after I’d done a lot of differentiation techniques and optimization. I was trying to heighten the drama of the fundamental theorem. At the time I was sure this was the right choice, but retrospectively I’m not. Maybe having the fundamental theorem developed by November would have allowed the whole course to have more unity. Dunno.)

    I do have a burning recommendation but like Glesser it’s not for a textbook for the class, just something I recommend reading. (I read it during my 2nd year teaching AP calculus and wished I’d read it before my first.) William Dunham’s book The Calculus Gallery. In particular, the first two thirds. (Up through Weierstrass.) This book really helped me sort through for myself the connections and differences between the logical structure of the subject and the intuitive heuristics. A long time ago I wrote a lot about why I love this book so let me point you to that.

  9. April 3, 2011 pm30 9:50 pm 9:50 pm

    Sam and Sue, thanks for the book tips. And Ben.

    For supplements, thanks to Adam and Ben for the Calculus Gallery (Dunham)and the Thompson thing. I am chasing after Thompson, and already found Dunham.

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