Written and photographed by Sarah Weintraut
For many years, Pre-Calculus has been a central part of the math curriculum at M-A, honing in on basic skills that are needed to learn the foreign concepts in Calculus. However, due to the amount of overlap between the content of Algebra II and Pre-Calculus, and in an effort to simplify their math pathways, schools in the district, like Woodside and Sequoia, have decided to make the Pre-Calculus course optional. Yet the course still remains a default part of the M-A math pathway. Why? What is the value of a year-long Pre-Calculus course if a large majority of it is review? Why not just go straight into Calculus?
Pre-Calculus is meant to serve as a bridge between the concepts of Algebra and Calculus, using previously learned skills to transition into more complicated Calculus topics later on in the year. The Calculus course can be divided into three parts that do not have a clear beginning or end: A, B, and C. Generally, students choose to take the AB summer course after a year of Pre-Calculus since the AB summer course covers only a semester of Calculus material (the ‘A’ material). Whereas, the Pre-Calculus summer course covers a variety of topics with an entire year worth of material.
However, some question if a year-long course of Pre-Calculus is even necessary. Sophomore Sina Kassayan said he decided to do Pre-Calculus over the summer because he “knew that Pre-Calculus mostly builds on old concepts and doesn’t introduce too many new topics, so I thought it would work better to do Pre-Calculus over the summer instead of AB Calc.” Kassayan said that he was glad he took the Pre-Calculus summer course and that it prepared him for his current Calculus AB class.
Steven Kryger, a teacher of AB Calculus for 24 years, said that “students who understand Algebra II forwards and backwards can do the Pre-Calc summer course and have great success in Calculus AB.”
Others maintain the sentiment that Pre-Calculus is worth the year the course takes. Pre-Calculus teacher Khoa Dao said, “For very strong students who have mastered Algebra II, most of the first semester of Pre-Calculus will be review, and could be covered in a few weeks. However, this has not been the case for the vast majority of students. I have found that students have many gaps that Pre-Calculus exposes, so students have the opportunity to truly master the content before taking Calculus.”
Echoing this sentiment, Kryger said that Pre-Calculus aids students in their future classes because this firmer understanding of Algebra stops “Algebra II and Pre-Calculus material from getting in the way of what they’re learning.”
Dao elaborated on the essential skills that Pre-Calculus teaches, including polar and parametric equations, real-world applications, and mathematical modeling. In addition to reviewing much of Algebra II, Dao said that “Pre-Calculus covers many concepts in the second semester that are not covered in Algebra II. These concepts are crucial to courses such as Calculus BC.”
Ultimately, the choice of whether to take Pre-Calculus or not is up to the individual. Students will eventually end up in the same Calculus BC class, whether they took Pre-Calculus as a summer course or year-long course. Dao proposed the idea that “we can make a Pre-Calculus Honors class for extremely strong students and cover Pre-Calculus and Calc AB in one year so students won’t have to take it over the summer.”
Kryger said, “Students who don’t nail AS Algebra II should absolutely do the full year of Pre-Calculus before going on to Calculus.” The general consensus of teachers emphasizes the importance of Pre-Calculus’ ability to cement students’ comprehension of Algebra and tools for future Calculus learning. Nevertheless, a full year of Pre-Calculus is not for everyone, and it’s important to reach out to counselors and teachers to find what best fits the individual student.