Worcester Polytechnic Institute uses Maple to help students meet demands of intensive courses - Maplesoft

User Case Study:
Worcester Polytechnic Institute uses Maple to help students meet demands of intensive courses

Faculty at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute wanted to find a solution to ease the burden on their calculus students, helping them better navigate complex materials and concepts while improving efficiency.

The faculty chose Maple to simplify the learning process for students and help create a level playing field to compensate for varied educational backgrounds. Maple provides students - especially newer students - with the freedom and ease-of-use to explore problems and visualize solutions.

Implementing Maple has provided an enhanced interactive learning environment for students. Maple enables discovery-led labs and makes it easy for students to explore examples from a variety of fields. As a result, Maple helps students develop their conceptual understanding faster and more deeply than before. Overall, Maple has relieved the tension associated with intense courses and helped WPI students work through their course load effectively.

Today’s academic workloads can place a heavy burden on students, especially at the post-secondary level. Institutions must find a way to help students shoulder these loads and make the process as efficient as possible so both students and faculty can maximize their time and efforts. Digital learning solutions offer a more streamlined learning environment and enhance the educational experience. Students can work through problems quickly and efficiently while receiving valuable feedback that strengthens their conceptual understanding.  This is especially important in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, where many students come from varied educational backgrounds and are dealing with complex problems and materials. At the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, faculty chose Maple to help their calculus students navigate intensive courses and learn key concepts.

At WPI there are more than 1,000 first-year students, all of whom take calculus. Given their varied backgrounds, it is essential to get everyone up to speed and on the same page, said Jane Bouchard, an Instructor’s Associate in Mathematical Sciences at the school. “The only thing these students have in common is fine academic ability. They are as varied as their homes are different,” she said. “The students come from six continents, and their computer background varies from no exposure in their high school to extensive exposure. We put them on the computers right away, as this will be their reality throughout their careers.”

The first academic term begins with an intensive seven weeks so the faculty wanted an effective method to help the new and diverse class get up to speed. In the math department, they introduced a weekly lab for calculus courses, completed using Maple. It has proven to be a pleasant interface for all the students on their first day of class, Bouchard said. “In Maple, beginners are able to explore computations and even basic derivatives and graphs. They benefit from the more advanced look, the functions and three-dimensional graphing and all the options available that enhance the graphs,” she said. “Being able to use syntax or natural code, or other menu options, lets students choose a method of exploration that suits them.”

After spending some time on an initial exploration of Maple, the students are shown specifics that they will use to complete their lab work, ranging from rectangular approximations to Taylor polynomials to triple integrals in spherical coordinates. When dealing with complicated computations and graphs, Maple allows instructors to facilitate labs that are discovery led, Bouchard said. “Students can understand functions by quickly changing a coefficient or an angle or an exponent to discover the effect on a graph.”

In addition, Maple code can be used to create programs that will allow the student to work on examples from many fields, Bouchard explained. “For example, Geometric series can be worked into a program to mimic decay of medicine dosages with multiple variables,” she said. “Then the student can work through examples with different parameters and discuss what is best for a patient.” In another application, partial differential equations can be put into a program to mimic heat dissipation through materials so the student can work with different parameters and discuss options for a brick oven. Working in pairs on the computer has also fostered discussions between the students.

When it comes to learning, especially when dealing with complex subject matter, technology tools can have a significant impact on students’ ability to understand the materials and retain knowledge. Solutions like Maple provide students with an interactive learning environment that enables them to visualize problems, and work through complex concepts with greater understanding. At Worcester Polytechnic, Maple has proved to be an invaluable tool in helping students keep up with their course work and deal with the educational burdens.

Contact Maplesoft to learn how Maple can be used in your classroom.