Home > Math > [#4] – Math 113 – Elementary Calculus I

[#4] – Math 113 – Elementary Calculus I

At this very moment, I am taking an introductory physics course in beautiful British Columbia.  If you’ve been dutifully following my entries (in chronological order of course), the previous sentence should seem rather precarious.  After all, what brings an UofA student from Alberta, to a different university in a different province?! (In true cliffhanger fashion, you’ll have to wait for the answer to this question in an upcoming post)


Math is a language that helps us understand both the physcial, and the abstract dimensions of reality.


Anyways, you must also be wondering: “what does any of this nonsense have to do with today’s entry on elementary calculus?”  Well, to put it simply, today’s physics lecture dealt with the properties of electric flux.  In order to understand such a concept, one should be, at the very least, acquainted with the fundamentals of calculus.  Without such knowledge, it would be difficult, nigh impossible, to develop a solid comprehension of the subject.  What I’m getting at is: sometimes, even if we don’t like it, math can be used as a language, or stepping stone, for deciphering physical constructs (ie: electric flux).

* Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate math, physics, and the like … but I’ve never been acutely interested in either of the subjects; at least, not enough to pursue a career in these fields (eg. engineering)



I found high school math to be remarkably straight forward.  To that end, my math grades were always quite admirable.  When presented with the option, in grade 12, to take elementary calculus as an elective, I promptly decided to enroll in the course.  After all, it would help prepare me for university calculus, right?  Our high school calculus class was, once again, exceedingly simple; if you put in the effort.  I ended up scoring a 98% in the course, and given my track record, (ignorantly) believed that university calculus would be just as easy.


Course:  Math 113 – Elementary Calculus I

Instructor:  Markus Molenda

Textbook:  Thomas’ Calculus – by Thomas (11th ed)



Let me start by telling you that, despite my final grade in this course, I still enjoyed it.  Now, I’ll begin this review by talking a bit about the course layout.  First year students essentially have three different math streams to choose from: Math 113, Math 114, and Math 117.

Math 113, the course I took, is, in many respects, virtually identical to Math 114.  The only characteristic making the two different, is the fact that Math 113 includes a ‘lab/quiz’ component.  This ‘extra’ component was, in my opinion, quite beneficial.  It meant that less of our total grade was allocated toward the midterm and final exam, when compared to Math 114.

Last but not least, there’s Math 117 (Honors Calculus).  This is certainly not for the faint-hearted.  All but the most apt of students decide to enroll in this course.  I’ve heard through the grapevine that although the class sizes are small, it’s still graded on the curve.  This makes for one heck of a killer class average.

Back to the review:  My professor, Markus Molenda, was undoubtedly, a welcome relief to the math department.  He was/is the antithesis to the stereotypical languid, and intellectually aloof math professor.  The class wasn’t nearly as boring as it could have been, thanks to him and his comical approach to teaching.

As far as course content goes; it expanded on what we had learned in high school calculus (derivation, integration, optimization, etc).  In retrospect, the only glaring difference was the way in which grades were determined.  Math 113 was structured such that our midterm and final exams were worth 30% and 50% of our total grade, respectively.  This was much different than high school, where we had 8 unit tests consisting of 100% of our mark (no final exam).

Honestly, this new layout threw me for a loop.  One slip-up could spell disaster as the two exams were weighted very heavily.  Regrettably, this is precisely what happened in my case.  I was content with my midterm result, but the final exam was a different story.  Time constraints were my primary gripe; I didn’t have enough time to check through all of my work, and thus, failed to notice all of the simple errors that I’d made (we weren’t allowed any type of calculator).

I’ll end now on a more positive note and provide a tip for those who may one day find themselves in the same sort of situation:

– If you are like me, and are mind numbingly slow at solving mathematical/physical problems, make sure to have ample practice beforehand! (ie: before the exam)  Doing practice problems will not only strengthen your understanding of key concepts, but it will also hasten your processing speed.  Trust me.


Class Average: ~ C+  (2.4 GPA)

My Grade:  B+  (3.3 GPA)

  1. July 20, 2011 at 7:19 am

    No calculators? That;s weird :S

    • July 20, 2011 at 11:38 am

      Yeah, tell me about it! In the ‘real’ world there’s always some sort of calculator handy; whether it be in the form of a computer, or even an abacus, haha. I have a feeling that the math department secretly enjoyed seeing us flustered over ‘simple’ multiplication and division!

  2. Anonymous
    October 23, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    As a math major at the U of A (I had Markus for 114, as a matter of fact), I’m calling you out for blaming the “no calculators” policy. The professors know that you don’t have a calculator, and they make sure the basic arithmetic is dead simple. If you can’t do simple fractions, and numeric operations on paper you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.

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