Many Freshmen Taking More Advanced ClassesBy Yvonne Lai
Calculus I with Theory (18.014) and the more theoretical version of Physics I (8.012) witnessed 30 percent enrollment increases this year.
The size of the 8.012 class increased in part because MIT changed the way in which it awards incoming freshmen credit for Physics I (8.01).
In previous years, a score of 4 or 5 on both parts of the Advanced PlacementPhysics C exam, both Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism earned students credit for 8.01. But recently, the professors teaching Physics II (8.02) in the fall have been disappointed with their students' proficiency with fundamental physical concepts such as basic mechanics, said Professor of Physics Daniel Kleppner, who is teaching 8.012 this term.
Since 1987, there has been a 95 percent increase in the number of students scoring a 3 or above on all AP exams.
"The APis inadequate," Kleppner said. The physics department felt that most students who took 8.02 were doing so because they had earned 8.01 credit.
Consequently, the department boosted the requirements to a score of 5 on both parts of the AP Physics C exam, coupled with a score of 4 or 5 on the AP Calculus exam.
"The 5 on Mechanics and E&M represents dedication," Kleppner said. "The Calculus score ensures mathematical prowess."
The physics department also recommended that those students with AP credit for 8.01 take 8.012. "In a sense, the enrollment increase is what we expected," Kleppner said. This year's fall 8.02 enrollment decreased from last year.
Only five of 60 students this year taking the 8.01 Advanced Standing Exam passed.
MIT is not alone in deeming the AP Physics C a faulty indicator for class placement. In an American Institute of Physics educational meeting this year, other top schools voiced their concern for the difficulty level of the exam.
Math changes not as significant
In contrast, "The [Calculus] APexams are stable," said Joanne E. Jonsson, the academic administrator of the department of mathematics. "It's still a pretty reliable indicator of the level of incoming students," she said.
The 51 students enrolled in 18.014 this year makes it the largest class in five years. Two years ago, when the mathematics department created the new version of Calculus that covered the first semester material in six weeks (18.01A), approximately thirty students took 18.014. Between 1992 and 1994, approximately forty-five students took 18.014 each year.
"The mathematics classes here usually fluctuate," Jonsson said. "Comparing statistics of two consecutive years says nothing, because of the variation."
"Class size depends more on what students have been saying to each other," she said.
Large 8.012 class causes problems
Last September, there were 140 students in 8.012. By the end of the semester, 90 remained. Most of the fifty who dropped elected to take 8.01, and dropped within the first few weeks. This year, the enrollment began at 190, and increased to 204 by the second week.
The physics department scheduled their original five recitations based on previous years. Kleppner began the first 8.012 lecture by a survey of students' free time. Based on these numbers, three more recitations were scheduled.
The average class size then became approximately twenty-five. Eighteen is ideal size for the recitations, and 20 is the nominal number, Kleppner said.
One of those recitations had to be cancelled, as the same professor had been scheduled to teach both at the same time. Kleppner hopes to schedule yet another recitation.
To make up for the lack of recitation professors, the physics department hired graduate and post-doctoral students. "These students are advanced," Kleppner said. "I'm quite comfortable with them doing the job," he said.
Textbooks in short supply
The MIT Coop stocked too few 8.012 and 18.014 textbooks. Along with classroom handouts, Kleppner made available copies of the first chapter of the textbook.
By the first day of 18.014, 12 students out of 51 had not been able to purchase textbooks. The first problem set had assigned several textbook problems.
To ameliorate this situation, Professor Haynes Miller distributed copies of the first chapter during lecture. Not until last Thursday did the first of the 12 students buy the textbook.