Monday, 16 February 2009

The Cheshire Math Curriculum

In a note to the Philosophical Magazine (January, 1846) by Professor J.R.Young of Belfast College, Working with the sum of infinite series he refers to the "evanescence" of xinf when x < 1.. One of the things I love about old Math journals is the beauty of the language used. For those who may not know the word, it means to slowly disappear, to vanish.

I was reminded of this quote recently thinking about the evanescence of many of the ideas once common to the high school curriculum. I recently had a math teacher who teaches Alg I tell me that factoring was not in the curriculum for her students, and she would not be teaching it. I know many others for whom, although it is still in their curriculum, it will not be taught because they don't see a use for it. In a blog a teacher of introductory students in a community college stated, almost smugly, that they had never learned the quadratic formula. The apparent implication, "It is not needed because I don't use it and I'm the teacher."

I recently wrote some blogs about synthetic division, including a few things that some folks had said to their classes "can't be done" and received several notes reminding me that it was a waste of time, because they could just use long division.... BTW, guess what is being de-emphasized in elementary school these days...... evanescence...

Last year I noticed that Descartes Rule of Signs had essentially "evenesced" out of my Pre-calc sequence. The term and the idea are both absent from my new algebra II book, and appears only as the last problem (number 73) in an exercise set in the current Pre-calc/analysis book.

A brief treatment of vectors is still present, but seeming unsteady on legs as wobbly as a punch-drunk fighter. No vector equations (nor parametric if you see them as I do as almost interchangeable) in three space, although there is a unit on two space parametric equations to accomodate a few questions on projectile motion.

For most of the year I squeeze these in as extra items, one this week, one the next, so that by the time we get to this time of the year I can give a full couple of weeks to vectors and planes in three space and my best students will actually be able to write the equation of a line of intersection of two planes; or the foot of the altitude of a tetrahedron from its four coordinates.

It's not in the curriculum, and I have no answer when someone protests that the students will "NEVER have to use that." Maybe they are right..I know that long ago when I was selecting classes in North Side High School in Fort Worth, Texas, I could not imagine any time in my life when I would need to speak French... (guess where I am going back to on Spring Break because Christmas there was so wonderful).. and I can't imagine anyone sitting around doing math, punching buttons on their calculator or ??? and they suddenly think to themselves, "I wish I didn't know how to factor polynomials, and I can't wait to forget how to do synthetic division
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