Conceptual Calculus Displayed Through Sidewalk Chalk

Senior mathematicians solved AP calculus problems using sidewalk chalk in Jo Anderson Drive on a recent afternoon.

Unlike the two other calculus courses (taught by Mr. Tyler and Dr. Riff), which culminate with the AP Calculus exam (and strive to help students place out of calculus courses in college), Sven Carlsson’s Conceptual Calculus course has a slightly different focus: Its purpose is to give students who may take Calculus I in college a conceptual and computational foundation in differential and integral calculus that will allow them to successfully continue mathematics coursework in college. However, this does not mean that Carlsson shies away from the exam itself; in fact, he likes to challenge his students to participate in the AP fun by doing Free Response Questions from past exams (and, in fact, both Mr. Tyler and Mr. Carlsson devote the first few weeks of their summer vacation to working for the College Board as AP Readers for the AP Calculus exam).

Seizing upon the good weather, Carlsson recently invited students outdoors to use the tools of their early childhood (sidewalk chalk) to demonstrate their proficiency in advanced mathematics.

Carlsson knows that as a progressive school, Parker emphasizes making learning public, both for the benefit of the students learning and for those who might share in it. With that in mind, the main entrance of the school was an ideal location to make their scholarship evident. He shared, “We thought it would be great if an Intermediate School student using the main entrance got to see the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, even if only subliminally.”

Carlsson referred to the idea of “senioritis”—when graduating seniors lose their motivation to learn and mentally “check out” of school. He said, “Based on the number of students energetically and enthusiastically engaged throughout the period, completing problems in small groups and individually, it would seem that a great number of Parker students are inoculated against this nefarious disease.”

In addition to thanking Tyler for donating the chalk to make this activity possible, Carlsson is grateful and proud of his students for “their commitment to executing correct mathematics both indoors and outdoors, throughout all the excitement and emotions of their final year of high school.”

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.