2017 version of Active Calculus (single variable)

I’m excited to announce several changes to single variable Active Calculus along with some corresponding updates that will occur over the next month or so.

+ There is now a new HTML version of the text.

Thanks to Rob Beezer’s Mathbook XML (now called PreTeXt), this output format is optimized for viewing on a range of devices, including smartphones. Many times over the past several years I’ve had my students come into my office to ask a question, only to pull up the PDF of the text on their phone and pinch and squeeze their way to some problem or statement. The HTML version looks fantastic on a phone and is in many ways far superior to PDF; please check it out. I find it likewise better for viewing on a projector screen in a classroom.

+ The HTML version includes live WeBWorK exercises.

Thanks to the programming and technical support of Alex Jordan at Portland Community College, if you follow the link above and navigate to the end of any section, you’ll see each section starts with several WeBWorK exercises (usually 4-8 of them).  These newly included exercises (all of which come from the OPL) are more routine than the original exercises in the text, which remain but are now numbered differently. The WeBWorK exercises provide live anonymous feedback; do note that even if your department is a WeBWorK platform, students can’t log in to complete these problems. These are intended to be optional supplementary exercises.

+ A corresponding new PDF version is forthcoming.

I’m still working to get the 2017 PDF ready; I expect that will take another couple of weeks, at which point I have to get it set up with Amazon. Regardless, that will be ready by the start of fall term (late August) for print versions. It will be important for users to download the 2017 PDF regardless, since the HTML version requires an internet connection to function. More to follow when the 2017 PDF posts. Also, see next item for why I’m writing “2017 PDF”.

+ The 2016 version will be available but unchanged going forward

The 2016 LaTeX/PDF version will continue to be available, but my plan is not to make any further changes to that source code and instead view that source as “frozen”. If in the past you have requested the original TeX source from me, you’re welcome to ask for the most updated version of that, which I last changed a month or so ago to reflect the errors that various users found and reported during the 16-17 academic year. This 2016 PDF version will continue to be posted online and will also be available for purchase in print/bound form from Amazon, etc.

Looking ahead to the start of fall semester: if you use either the 2016 or 2017 version and intend to encourage your students to buy a print copy, it will be important that you clearly direct students to the correct print version to purchase. There is a new cover image and a slightly different color scheme for 2017 to help distinguish the two versions. More info on this (with direct links) will follow — for sure on my blog and likely via email — sometime in mid August, including an overview of the differences between the two versions, which are modest but will likely affect communication with students when directing them to portions of the text.

+ Active Calculus – now on GitHub

For GitHub users and those interested in using/learning Mathbook XML/PreTeXt, the XML source files are now on GitHub. I am a novice GitHub user, but as I continue to learn, submission of issues and pull requests will be very much appreciated. In the not-distant future I plan to post the 2016 LaTeX source files to GitHub as well.

+ More updates to follow

I’ve recently updated my web page for the text, and I expect that additional updates will follow there along with here on the blog in the coming weeks.  Beyond information regarding this new version and format for the text, I’m planning to post more frequently this fall to share user feedback on the HTML version and some other hoped-for future developments.

Thanks for reading and for your interest in Active Calculus.



  1. Mike Trudnwoski · · Reply

    Could you tell me where the Mean Value Theorem is covered in the 2017 version?

    1. There is not currently a section on the Mean Value Theorem. It’s something I’m open to adding, but haven’t gotten around to. Having an enterprising user send me a draft of such a section would be a good prompt for me if others would like to see this included.

  2. Hi Matt, I just found this page and I think the idea is brilliant. I’m curious if you have ever discussed the logistical issues behind an open source textbook: 1) did you get funding to produce it? 2) do you need funds to host or maintain it? and 3) how long did it take? I’d love to see something like this in my field (seismology) but it seems like a huge effort!

    1. Hi Derek,

      Thanks for your message and interest here. I don’t think I’ve previously written about your 3 questions, so here goes.

      > 1) did you get funding to produce it?

      GVSU awarded me a sabbatical semester in winter 2012 to write the first four chapters of Active Calculus. I finished that project in those 4 months, but then was faced with needing 4 more chapters for integral calculus. Without time/funding, I was able to do 2 more chapters over the next 8 months, and my wonderful friends and GVSU colleagues David Austin and Steve Schlicker each contributed a full draft of a chapter.

      > 2) do you need funds to host or maintain it?

      The hosting is free because I partly do it through my faculty website and partly through GVSU’s ScholarWorks. Until August 2017, that only involved posting a PDF. With the new HTML version it’s a bit bigger issue, and for now the book is on my faculty webpage. I’m unaware of how well that has worked for users, but I’ve not heard any complaints, so I’m assuming it’s fine. There has been fairly significant traffic to it. Along with the American Institute of Mathematics, I’ll have some news regarding a new location for the HTML version in January.

      As to maintaining the text, that’s largely an editing project. See below.

      > 3) how long did it take?

      A long time :-). The first four chapters grew out of a decade of work regularly teaching calculus 1 for which I had written a large number of activities. To take those activities and turn them into a genuine book took a 4-month sabbatical, probably working on writing/editing/graphics on the order of 30 hours a week for 15 weeks. With nothing else major going on, I can write a chapter in about a month … something like 120 hours.

      Since getting a complete draft of the text in December 2012, I’ve invested a lot of time in editing, but nothing close to the original authorship until this past year when from August 2016 to August 2017 I devoted something like 5-6 hours a week on average to making the conversion from LaTeX as the source code to Rob Beezer’s Mathbook XML (now called “PreTeXt”). There was a flurry at the end of that project that added quite a bit of time to it.

      In the next couple of years, one of my goals is to collaborate with an experienced author who offered to help me do a complete edit of the text to tighten the prose and make the language more consistent.

      All of this goes to support Rob Beezer’s maxim about textbook authorship: “The serious editing never goes away.” All of it has been worth it, though. I really appreciate how many people have shown interest and value in the project.

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