WASHINGTON—College calculus traditionally has acted as a filter in the scientific pipeline to make sure that only the best people get through. But some educators think the filter has become clogged, keeping many good students out of science and engineering and slowing the progress of those who do pass through. What’s needed, they say, is a new method of teaching calculus that is so inspiring that it actually pumps students into related disciplines.

The first formal step in that process was a two-day meeting here late last month, sponsored by the National Research Council and the Mathematics Association of America, to develop a plan to reform college-level mathematics by 2000. The 600 reformers who met at the National Academy of Sciences also saw the debut of the National Science Foundation’s $2 million, five-year program to fund pilot projects to improve calculus instruction.

The conference offered the public a glimpse of...

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