In this episode, Professor Gigliola Staffilani shares how she makes calculus feel less abstract and more meaningful.



Professor Gigliola Staffilani, who teaches in MIT’s Department of Mathematics, was closely involved in designing and teaching the introductory-level 18.01 Calculus I course series now found on the MIT Open Learning Library. She’s also been involved in teaching calculus to students on campus. To help students become proficient in a notoriously intimidating subject, she has tried to design learning experiences that bridge the gap between the pure abstractions that mathematicians love, exemplified by the use of conventional notation such as xy, and f(x), and the concrete real-world situations in which calculus is typically applied in other fields such as chemistry or physics.

In this episode, Prof. Staffilani discusses her efforts to make calculus less abstract and more intuitive for learners–efforts that draw on a diverse mix of teaching tools and props: digital applets, sketching tools, bagels, croissants, donuts, and even a balloon in a box. She also discusses her commitment to increasing equity and fighting implicit bias in her field.

Relevant Resources

MIT OpenCourseWare

The OCW Educator Portal

Share your teaching insights

Professor Staffilani’s faculty page

Single variable calculus courses on MIT’s Open Learning Library

18.01 Calculus I: Single Variable Calculus on OCW

Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions

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Sarah Hansen, host and producer

Brett Paci, producer

Dave Lishansky, producer

Show notes by Peter Chipman

Blog image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay