Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Yay for Algebra 2! #MTBoS30 - 11

There's a lot of discussion tonight on Twitter about the merits of Algebra 2 or the lack thereof.

The heart of the question seems to be should it be required for graduation.  In my state, the typical graduation path does require Algebra 2 and it doesn't seem to be keeping students from graduating.  Our graduation rate statewide is about 88% and in our district 97%.

In our high school in particular we are trying to address the statistics that say students are not ready for college math when they arrive, and therefore required to take remedial courses.  One goal for the past two years has been to focus on college/career readiness ... making sure our students have the math they need to take the next steps.  Algebra 2 is an important part of that puzzle.

I'm thinking aloud tonight about the merits of Algebra 2 ...

I think of math as the study of patterns.  In Algebra 2 we focus on patterns in the form of functions.

One huge focus in our program is analyzing the graphs of functions ... understanding key attributes, learning about transformations, using graphs to predict and make decisions.

Yes, the predictions and decision making are often in contrived scenarios, but I think of those like learning to drive in a parking lot before actually getting out on the road.

We also look at real data, determining lines of best fit.  Most recently we explored population, crime, unemployment, and property tax data to see how those in government might use data for decision making.  We also looked at real costs of college tuition in the past 10 years to make predictions about the cost in the next 4 to 8 years.

A second focus in our program is algebraic manipulation - solving equations of all types within the eight functions we study.  There is much satisfaction in solving challenging equations.   Students develop a sense of accomplishment; they are proud of the work they can do.  I borrowed Mr. Waddell's rules about making one or zero ... really helps to clarify the purpose in each step in solving.

The third focus is applying the use of functions to problem solving situations.  Again, the situations are contrived.  Sometimes they are a little bit relevant to students.  Sometimes students seem to be interested in the scenarios.  We use hands-on labs where possible to add engagement.

So why is this course important?

  • It wraps up core content associated with algebra
  • It sets the stage for advanced algebra/precalculus for students who want to go on with math
  • It provides windows of opportunities for students to see how math is used in future job possibilities
  • It addresses problem solving, multiple representations, use of technology, and quantitative literacy

A few observations ...

  • Algebra 2 content seems to differ quite a bit.  I wonder if narrowing the focus, clarifying the key ideas for the course would help?  I happen to like our curriculum ... and we don't address trig, conics, or probability.  Those topics are attached to our precalculus course.
  • Relevance, connections to real world seem to be unclear.  I wonder if MTBoS teachers could crowdsource connections to better problems?
  • If it really is "how" we teach and not "what" ... then let's pull together the best examples of what the "how" should look like!

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