Oklahoma State University
Why do we teach the topics we do in College Algebra, or even in High School Algebra II? How are these topics used in courses, especially those outside mathematics, for which College Algebra is a prerequisite? At Oklahoma State we interviewed department heads and faculty members teaching such courses to find out what mathematics they used in their classes and what they thought was taught in College Algebra. Their answers were shocking! The skills they sought in their students were often not even part of the College Algebra course; moreover their students seemed to have no ability to apply more basic mathematical concepts to real problems.
At Oklahoma State we designed a new Math Modeling course as a substitute for College Algebra for most students. This course covers fewer topics in greater depth, uses rates of change as a pervasive (and satisfying!) theme, treats real problems, does not shy away from data, and requires a different way to teach and learn. Using mathematical models and a little technology (graphics calculators), students are able to tackle a wide array of interesting real-world problems. They are able to check their answers against their own intuition, common sense, and experience.
This new approach to, or substitute for, College Algebra has been gratifyingly successful. Even students demoralized from past failures have succeeded with this course. Attitudinal surveys of our students show a more positive attitude toward mathematics and its utility, particularly among non-traditional students, preservice elementary teachers, and women.
Bruce Crauder was educated at Haverford College and Columbia University, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1981, specializing in algebraic geometry. Since then he has taught at the University of Utah, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina, and Colorado State University. He has been at Oklahoma State University since 1986 where he serves as Associate Dean for Instruction as well as Professor of Mathematics. Crauder has had an abiding interest in math education, particularly for beginning college students. With two colleagues, he has spent several years developing Mathematical Functions and Their Uses, a course and textbook in mathematics modeling at the College Algebra level.