Math professor reimagines calculus education

MORGANTOWN — When a method of doing something is proven tried and true, it’s often unquestioned.

This isn’t the case for Krista Bresock, mathematics instructor and Ph.D. student at WVU.

Bresock is making history by rethinking how WVU faculty teach mathematics and changing her teaching style for the betterment of students’ learning experiences.

A Grafton  native, Bresock never saw herself pursuing a degree in mathematics. During her years as an undergraduate, she had a conversation with a teaching assistant. This  led Bresock to take more math courses, falling in love with the subject.

“I was amazed at what math could be and how much it sparked my interest,” Bresock said.

Fast forward, and Bresock is now fully engaged with mathematics by researching student learning of integral calculus and serving as the lead teaching instructor of MATH 156, Calculus 2.

In July  2018, Bresock attended the 42nd Annual Meeting of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education in Umea, Sweden. This math conference is one of the largest held internationally. Bresock presented her research focusing on calculus students’ visualizations when solving volume problems.

“My research seems to be uncovering the idea that students tend to learn and understand topics in the same way that they are presented,” Bresock said.

For example, if a teacher teaches the calculus material in a heavily formulaic way, being dependent on memorized equations instead of understanding the concepts, then the students will learn the material on a superficial level, rather than knowing how to apply the concepts. When it comes to volume problems, students are required to use two areas of calculus, integration and visualization.

“I kept finding that many students would produce wildly inaccurate pictures but build a correct integral, or they would sketch a perfect picture but produce a wildly inaccurate integral,” Bresock said.

By conducting this research, Bresock can implement it in her MATH 156 classes to see students’ learning styles and academic performance change firsthand. As a passionate instructor, Bresock enjoys teaching calculus, calling it a fascinating and beautiful subject.

“Throw in the fact that I get to talk to so many different unique, bright, fun students about math, and it just becomes something incredibly enjoyable that feels nothing like a job,” Bresock said.

Once she finishes her Ph.D., Bresock plans to stay at WVU and continue to conduct her research while teaching. Marjorie Darrah, chair of the Department of Mathematics, can see Bresock continuing her success for many years to come.

“Krista is one of our most dedicated instructors in the Department of Mathematics. She cares deeply about the students and goes above and beyond her normal teaching duties to help students succeed,”  Darrah said. “The fact that she is also doing her graduate studies in our department and focusing on discovering more about how students think about and learn calculus is a wonderful added benefit to the department.”

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