‘Scaffolding’ or ‘Filtering’: A review of studies on the diverse roles of calculus courses for students, professionals and teachers

Irene Biza, Alejandro S. González-Martín, Alon Pinto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Calculus courses have been attracting the attention of mathematics education researchers over the last decades. Recent publications and special issues dedicated to calculus highlight the diverse roles of calculus courses in the pathways for STEM studies within and across educational levels, as well as issues related to the academic preparation of future STEM professionals, including mathematicians, non-mathematics professionals (NMPs) and teachers. In this paper, we review recent literature, mostly since 2015, to identify and characterize explicit references to such diverse roles of calculus courses. The review highlights an intrinsic tension between two institutional roles of calculus: scaffolding and filtering. We find nuanced yet substantial variation in how the dual role of calculus is experienced and managed across different groups of students and stakeholders. With regard studies on calculus for mathematics students, recent studies attend to changes in the rules underpinning calculus notions and processes, and highlight the scaffolding potential of calculus courses towards abstraction and reasoning. In contrast, studies on calculus for NMPs report that such courses often promote filtering rather than scaffolding and question transferability and relevance of those courses for NMPs. Finally, studies challenge the perception that traditional tertiary calculus courses scaffold school teaching and underline the need for empirical research that would explain the nature of this scaffolding and how it can be realized in practice. We conclude that further empirical research, in particular theory development, is needed to address the diverse roles of calculus at the intersection of institutions, disciplines and communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389–418
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Journal of Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education
Issue number2
Early online date1 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • Calculus
  • Institutions
  • Teacher Education
  • Non-mathematics professionals
  • Transitions across educational levels
  • Transitions across mathematical domains
  • STEM
  • Teacher education

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