By Gail Helgason
The new high school mathematics curriculum which begins this fall promises to add up to a more practical and rewarding experience for students.
The curriculum divides high school math into "Pure Mathematics" and "Applied Mathematics" programs, and makes real-life problem-solving a major factor in both.
"There was a genuine effort to bring in practical, real-life applications," explains Peter Hancock, P.Eng., a retired electrical engineer who represented APEGGA on the Secondary Mathematics Advisory Committee established to work with Alberta Education and other partners in developing the curriculum.
Another key feature of the new curriculum is that it "attempts to address the needs of students not going into engineering," says Mr. Hancock, formerly assistant program head of telecommunications at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton.
He gives Alberta Education high marks for the effort and dedication that went into developing the curriculum, which also introduces new concepts, such as fractal patterns and glyphs, as well as the use of current technology. "Every effort has been made to introduce practical examples," he says. "I think that is a major step forward."
Pure Mathematics emphasizes mathematical theory and the use of algebra to solve problems. In this program, the major technological tool used is a graphing calculator.
Applied Mathematics emphasizes the application of mathematics and the use of numerical and geometric approaches to solve problems. Unlike Pure Mathematics, it minimizes the study of algebra for its own sake, adding it only when needed. It does, however, allow for a much greater use of computers and spreadsheet programs than previously.
Engineers supplied several problem-solving exercises used in both programs, says Dr. Jack Edwards, math consultant with Alberta Education’s curriculum standards branch. One exercise, for example, gives students the arrival times of a bus and train at a station, and asks students to calculate the probability that the bus will arrive after the train. Another, provided by an environmental engineer, gives students statistics on world population growth and world food production, and asks them to calculate when production will fall behind population growth.
The new curriculum was developed following the signing of the Western Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education K-12 in December 1993 by the Western provinces, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Under the agreement, courses are being standardized throughout Western Canada.
Alberta was given the task of developing a new math curriculum, which has already been introduced in kindergarten to Grade 9. Pure Mathematics 10 will be implemented in September 1998, followed by Pure Mathematics 20 in September 1999 and Pure Mathematics 30 in September 2000. Applied Mathematics will be available on an optional basis in September 1998, with the other courses becoming available in the following years.
How can students choose the right program?
Pure Mathematics plus Mathematics 31 is the combination which should be chosen by university-bound students interested in entering engineering, science or commerce, says Dr. Edwards.
Students who do not plan to enter those disciplines at the university level can consider taking Applied Mathematics. If they do decide to enter those disciplines, they can still switch to the required Pure Mathematics courses in Grade 12.
Students interested in pursuing careers as engineering technologists or technicians could take either Pure Mathematics or Applied Mathematics.
Mr. Hancock notes that he had not been in favor of the title of the Applied Mathematics program, which he feels is causing some confusion among both engineers and teachers. "Math 31 is still recommended if you’re going into engineering," he stresses.
Dr. Jack Edwards would be pleased to answer any questions you may have about the new curriculum. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.