Senior Year Alternatives in Math

By Sean Cavanagh — December 30, 2008 1 min read
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Let’s say you’re entering your senior year of high school.

Your school district, or your state, is requiring you to take a fourth year of math. But the only options offered, in addition to the courses you’ve already taken, are pre-calculus, calculus, and a more basic course that wouldn’t challenge you. You don’t want to take a blow-off course, but you also don’t like the calc and pre-calc options. It’s not that you hate math. But you’re not planning on majoring in math in college. You want math that challenges you in a different way.

Many schools are creating alternative math courses for 12th graders in the above-described predicament. One example of this approach is occurring at East Kenwood High School, in Michigan, as described in a recent story in the Grand Rapids Press. The school has added a number of alternative math classes, including Math and the FBI, Math and Sports, and Math in the Graphic Arts.

The story also describes a math course called “Geocaching,” which I’m assuming has to do with hiding caches of material and then using GPS technology to find it. (And yes, I had to look it up.)

The classes are popular, and likely to become more so, as Michigan raises its graduation requirements in math, the story suggests. Many states are taking similar steps to increase those demands. The story also mentions that earlier this month, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, signed a bill into law that allows schools to award math credit for personal finance classes. A number of schools in the Michigan district are preparing to launch such classes, the article says.

I wrote last month about the growth of alternative math courses for high school seniors. A number of research and advocacy organizations and academic scholars have created curricula for these classes, saying the current lineup of courses is not serving many students. If designed and taught well, these classes can be just or nearly as challenging as traditional advanced math, their supporters say—but with a stronger emphasis on applied skills, or areas of math that are often neglected, such as statistics or reasoning.

If you know of a senior year math course that breaks from the norm, ship me a description of it. There are a lot of school officials looking for ideas.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.