The Flavor of a Modeling-Based College Algebra / Precalculus Course
Author: Sheldon P. Gordon
In a recentGuest Editorial [Gordon 2013], I presented the case for changing
the focus of existing college algebra / precalculus courses to make
mathematicalmodeling the central and organizing theme. Doing so would
• make the courses far more appropriate to the needs of the overwhelming
majority of students who take such courses, and simultaneously
• transform the courses into offerings that meet the current mathematical
needs of the other disciplines who make these courses pre- and corequisites-
and hence are the ones that send us most of our students.
At the same time, such an applied and conceptual focus, rather than the
focus on developing algebraic skills in traditional versions of these courses,
would transform the courses into the "right courses given for the right
reasons for the students who actually register to take them."
To augment the broad principles and generalities presented in the editorial,
I now provide some specific examples of problems (along with a
discussion of each) that I have used in class and on exams to illustrate how
ideas and suggestions discussed there can play out with students. Let us
begin, however, with a brief overview of the structure that such amodelingbased
course might have, citing specific topics.
COMAP develops curriculum resources, professional development programs, and contest opportunities that are multidisciplinary, academically rigorous, and fun for educators and students. COMAP's educational philosophy is centered around mathematical modeling: using mathematical tools to explore real-world problems.