Curriculum Controversy: Y1 Math Seminar Receives Mixed Reviews

Madison Fernandez, ‘17

It seems that the class of 2017 continues to have problems… that is, math problems.  In 2013, freshman year for BHSEC’s current Y1s, there was a new math initiative involving a textbook aimed at middle and high school math teachers. Students felt as if the concepts they learned in 9th grade were not useful to the memorization tactics they needed in 10th grade for Algebra II and Trigonometry. This year, the new Math Y1 Seminar is introduced as a mandate, replacing what had previously been a choice of pre-calculus or calculus when entering the college program.

The new course is described by the math department as an introduction to mathematical thinking. The majority of the class is based on the textbook Journey Into Mathematics, which focuses on mathematical proofs. Rather than simply reading and copying, students find this course more intellectually stimulating because they take the time to understand the proofs themselves. This includes presenting the proofs and writing to their peers, helping each other understand rather than writing to the instructor. The class relies heavily on peer collaboration to workshop ideas.  As expected with a new class, there is a mix of responses. “I was intimidated and thought I couldn’t handle it, but after a lot of peer editing and tutoring sessions, I feel confident in my abilities,” says Helena Klonis, Y1.  On the other hand, some students don’t want to feel like the guinea pig during one of the most important years of their high school career, suggesting that this class may be better as an elective rather than mandatory. “We’ve barely taken any real math and it is leaving a lot of people really unprepared for the SAT and ACT,” says Alice Tillman, Y1. Other students are worried how this course will help them when they choose to take other college math classes. Fiona Brackley, Y1, shares that she wishes she was able to take a basic pre-calculus class, saying, “I understand that we should all be understanding the beauty and majesty of math, but that’s like math major material. I’m here to pass high school math and I sometimes feel a huge disadvantage to other kids in other schools.” She adds on, “I think philosophically enough in seminar.” One perk of the class is the fact that there are no tests. “Even if it’s tough the lack of tests is such a relief because that way I can peacefully focus on the content, not a grade on an exam or the stress attached to studying something I don’t fully understand,” says Britney Franco, Y1. Students feel as if they can focus on the concepts rather than the grade for the class. Another adjustment Y1s have to make is how they do their work. For the first time, they have to type their proofs and explain math in words rather than just numbers. Some find the programs, such as Latex or Gmath, to be time consuming and frustrating to learn, especially when they have to handle the workload of other classes.

This is a new adjustment for the math teachers, as well. Dr. Rosenberg, a long time faculty member, says that he is still adjusting to the program, but he is undoubtedly excited about the outcomes. “I’m excited because it gives students the chance to explore what math actually is by looking at the history and the ideas of math,” he says. In response to the concerns that this class will not prepare students for future courses, he believes that it is actually a good preparation as a basis for calculus, computer science, and statistics. Professor Hartoonian shares that, as a mathematician, she is excited to teach this course. “I’m impressed by how many students take on the challenge with such a positive attitude,” she says. The math faculty as a whole has seen that although there is a certain air of uncertainty, none of the students are directly opposed to trying to learn and understand. Whether it be in class or after school during tutoring, Y1 students are trying their best to grasp these concepts that seem radically new in comparison to their past math classes in their previous two years at BHSEC.

Overall, both students and teachers alike are confronted with this seemingly new idea to approach math by thinking about it rather than algebraic manipulation. While this seems foreign, especially compared to other high school curriculums, the innovativeness of the course keeps students interested about what they are learning.

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