R-MA to analyze non-STEM course

By Josette Keelor

FRONT ROYAL — Cadets in a fourth-year high school advanced math class at Randolph-Macon Academy now have one less problem to solve. Previously stuck taking courses some viewed unnecessary to their intended career paths, students now have another choice.

Advanced Mathematics: Transition to College Mathematics and Statistics for juniors and seniors is the high school equivalent of pre-calculus or advanced placement calculus, according to department chair Eric Barr. After three years of prerequisite math classes, Advanced Mathematics will give students that fourth year of study to help them qualify for an advanced high school diploma — previously available only to calculus students successfully completing their courses.

“Calculus is not easy, so it was not and is not for everyone, but we didn’t have a good alternative,” Barr said.

He said he hopes the class will “spark an interest in some of them to use math as part of their field, but not the heart of their field.”

It also helps calculus students benefit from smaller classes and more personalized lessons.

“I had a huge number of kids in calculus and they just didn’t belong there. They weren’t particularly interested, which made it easy for them not to be successful,” he said.

“It’s just not for everybody, so why set them up to fail?”

Previously, four-year math students had to try pre-calculus, said Celeste Brooks, director of public relations, before either continuing with calculus or jumping to AP statistics.

“So there was a gap there for students who already knew after algebra II, ‘I don’t want to go into engineering, I don’t want to go into math. I’m not a STEM student,'” she said. “This is their bridge.”

The shelves of Barr’s third-floor classroom are lined with unhelpful texts he found online while searching for his alternative math program.

“They were just a different way to do what we were doing, as opposed to something new,” he said.

Then he read the course description of a book copyrighted for 2016: “This is designed to be used as a fourth-year capstone course for students who have successfully completed algebra, geometry and advanced algebra who have no use for calculus,” he remembered reading.

“That’s exactly what I’m looking for,” he remembered thinking.

“It’s going to give these students a different way to use math without calculus but still be practical, still be useful,” he said. “Because not everyone’s going to go into a STEM-related field, of course, so what do we have to offer for them that’s still going to be useful?”

The book, published by McGraw-Hill Education, offers lessons in problem-solving, data analysis, financial planning and decision making, and appeals to students pursuing careers outside of science, technology, engineering and math.

One such student is Jonathan Pederson, an 18-year-old senior who transitioned out of AP calculus a few weeks ago. Planning for a career in communications, he said he doesn’t anticipate needing calculus.

“When I entered AP calculus, I wasn’t at all interested in it,” he said. “It was going into in-depth stuff that wouldn’t very much apply to my curriculum in college.”

“I took it for a week,” he said. Then, “I transitioned out of it.”

The Transition to College Mathematics and Statistics Project, described at the website http://wmich.edu/tcms/, was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and, according to Barr, has been piloted at six other U.S. schools so far.

Pederson said the book, derived from the research of a University of Michigan math professor, will acquaint students with college material ahead of time “so that they’re better prepared for college.”

Not sure what the course will offer next, Pederson said he feels confident with the progression so far.

“We’ve ended the [last] chapter, so we’re going to start the new chapter,” he said.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com