Algebra 2: College prep? Career prep? Or both?

Algebra 2 is a required course for University of California freshman applicants. Is it also a prep course for a career? It sure could be!!

I would love to never hear again, “When am I going to use this?” Or, at least, I want them to be able to answer that question themselves.

Source: Student Project by Audrey F.

Personally, I really liked math and statistics and ended up getting my master’s in economics, specializing in econometrics. But, it wasn’t until grad school that I finally put all those early years of math to use. It was so cool to be doing applied math. If you like math and enjoy the ‘struggle’ of figuring things out, the traditional approach to learning Algebra 2 might be just fine for you. However, I will say, that once there was a real problem to solve with math, the math was even more exciting for me than it was before. Previously, I hadn’t made a connection to a real purpose for studying it, I just enjoyed doing and learning math for maths’ sake. But not everyone feels the same way. As a teacher, I really want students to be excited about what they are learning.

Source: Student Project by Audrey F.

When I’ve taught my statistics students to download data and work with it for a presentation and let them choose their topics, I’ve been amazed to see students who had not been very engaged previously, become excited and start proactively asking about where to go next with their ideas. They took a real ownership of their learning. As a teacher, my job got really easy, too. Classroom management was not an issue and grading was easy because I knew where the students were. Most of my time was spent troubleshooting and circulating and talking to students about their projects. Students had a detailed rubric (but at the same time vague enough to allow for personalized outcomes) which we used as a talking tool to keep them moving towards covering all of the elements necessary for a high grade. I feel these projects prepare students for career and for college courses that require data analysis.

The images in this post are examples of a student, Audrey F., choosing to look at urban populations in different countries. Her rationale for which countries she chose for comparison are explained in her project. She describes what she found and then tries to find reasons for the differences in these groups. Some students need help narrowing down topics and they all need time to think critically. However, as more of this applied math is used, it gets easier for students and teachers.

Once I was working with data and looking for patterns and trying to put mathematical models to social, financial, health, and economic data, I was finally putting to use all that math I had learned in Algebra 2, Pre-calculus and Calculus. However, that was years after taking those courses. I wished I hadn’t had to wait so long to make those connections.

When I was learning, we didn’t have computers, iPads, Chromebooks, phones and easy to manipulate programs like Google Sheets or Excel or the free data analysis language R. So, it was easier to accept the traditional ‘pen and paper, no calculator’ approach. Plus, not everyone was taking those high level math classes. I think college pressures were lower and high school graduation requirements were just for Algebra 1 completion.

Now that data analysis tools are widely available, I really think we should be changing how we teach log functions, quadratics and other super cool math concepts. Teaching from a data science lens allows student to pick topics they’re interested in, create data displays, research the history of other countries or trends and create presentations that they can add to portfolio of work for when they move on to other courses or college and career.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say. I learned these applications and can easily share them with students. What about math teachers who haven’t had this exposure, though? There is a push right now from some pretty powerful minds – Jo Boaler and others – to get data science into the California math framework and it’s becoming more a part of standardized exams. I see it as a way to get students performing at high levels of analytic capacity on topics that matter to them. I see it as a way to integrate the curriculum with history, English, social science, science, technology and even art. I feel the disengaged student would become engaged – their strengths may show in ways that they didn’t even know they had under a traditional approach to teaching high level math.

Am I advocating that the entire course be project-based and applied? No, certainly not. However, some attention to application through data science would really help in terms of increasing engagement for all students, especially those who may not being served by our regular program, and in providing students some skills that are very much in demand today.

But, again, how to we get this professional training into the hands of our already hard-working, over stretched excellent teachers? I would love to come and do a workshop your teachers! Reach out via email at laurie@quantgal.com.

Additional related posts:

Looking at the global economy using United Nations Development Programme data: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/quantgal.com/3033

Unemployment using Census data: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/quantgal.com/3082

For more on data science in the classroom from Jo Boaler, check out: https://www.youcubed.org/resource/data-literacy/

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