Review: The Teaching Company's Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear

Based on Jacqueline Passey's comments on The Teaching Company's work, specifically Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear, I got this particular set of four DVDs on sale and gave them a look over the past few weeks.

As a piece of background, when I got my Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Widener University I only needed on more class to get a minor in Mathematics, so I did. Does that make me a mathematician? Hardly. I haven't used much more than Discrete Mathematics, Logic, Linear Algebra and Statistics since then, although remembering a lot of fuzzy details allowed me to get past some discussions better than others. When I started graduate school at Widener, we were doing systems of vector differential equations. One of my more favorite books was Knuth's Concrete Mathematics.

Professor Michael Starbird is reasonably engaging and humorous, and he makes a good try at bringing dry material to life. He has arranged the lecture in a way to focus on the big picture in a relatively non-mathematical way, although it doesn't hurt if you understand Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry.

This math course is presented for the non-mathematical. It is more of an explanation of Applied Calculus with fairly simple but interesting applications. When I took Calculus in my undergraduate days it was immediately applied to Engineering Physics. After all, I started on an Engineering major and switched to Computer Science later. As a result I thought many of the examples were somewhat simplistic… but how would this work with someone unfamiliar with the subject?

I think someone with no significant background in mathematics would benefit from this treatment. There's history, application, simplification, and very good explanation as to why we're doing these exercises. For example, a typical dry book on the subject would start with limits, then derivatives, then integrals and would probably concentrate on the mechanics of their calculation. This series starts with an application and slowly derives the tools for solving the posed problem, explaining the fundamental theorem, finally, in the fourth lecture over an hour and a half into the series. Even then it is missing limits, but they are not sorely missed.

If you know someone that is struggling with Calculus because they want to know why things are the way they are and what the heck is this thing good for, and loves a little dose of history in the process, this is a great series for them. In fact, I would suggest exposing new students to this material before they take Calculus. In fact, I would suggest exposing new students to this material before they take Physics.

Overall, I think I will examine some more of The Teaching Company's materials—especially the history—but their materials are very expensive. I didn't mind paying the sale price for this series on Calculus as it was no worse than buying a few DVDs from the Standard Deviants. But, if one bought it at list price it would cost $255, not including another $30 or so for shipping. Some of their DVD sets with 72 lectures cost half a kilobuck or more. I wish they had more business materials as that's what I'm studying at the moment.

Josh Poulson

Posted Friday, Dec 10 2004 04:43 PM

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The good news is the Teaching Company puts things on sale frequently, and you can often resell the sets on eBay for quite a bit.


Posted Friday, Dec 10 2004 05:13 PM

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