The Advent Calendar: A University Experience for Spacing Learning, Practicing Math, and Enjoying Studying

The main purpose of Calculus courses is to introduce students to the scientific method of analysis, providing a suitable language and useful skills in order to effectively face other disciplinary courses. Unfortunately, this does not happen frequently. Many students perceive the Calculus exam as a stumbling block and try to postpone it as much as possible. This negative mindset can quickly turn into a cycle of low confidence, less motivation, and poor performance. Math anxiety is always just around the corner. Added to this emotional stress is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, with the distinctive rise of e-learning and digital platforms, forcing teachers to quickly develop new teaching strategies. In this framework, designing preliminary actions aimed at fostering motivation and increasing engagement of students attending university basic calculus courses is an essential challenge. It is not by chance that students with higher learning motivation “achieve significantly higher test scores, enjoy learning more, have more positive self-concepts, make greater use of deep learning strategies and engage to a greater extent in autonomous self-regulated learning”.
The purpose of this research is to explore the possible advantages of mixing digital tools and pedagogical techniques in order to keep students engaged and help them to approach the study of mathematics effectively, improving both their satisfaction level and their results. In particular, this paper describes a learning activity called Advent Calendar. Proposed within a calculus course, it seeks to involve students in their learning process throughout a non conventional, gradual experience which recalls the logic of the special calendar used to count the days until Christmas. Every day, students carry out a Christmas-themed mathematical exercise. Santa Claus, the elves and the rein- deer are facing problems that can be solved by exploiting suitable mathematics tools introduced during the course. This storytelling process gives concrete form and a familiar connotation to abstract mathematical concepts, involving emotions and imagination at the same time: “a story tends to have more depth than a simple example”.


Iannella, A., Morando, P. & Spreafico, M.L. (2021) The Advent Calendar: A University Experience for Spacing Learning, Practicing Math, and Enjoying Studying. In: HELMeTO 2021 -  Book of Abstracts of the Third International Workshop on Higher Education Learning Methodologies and Technologies Online, Edizioni Studium S.r.l., Università eCampus, pp. 166-169 (ISBN 978-88-99978-36-5)