### Thursday, January 26, 2006

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What's in a name?

Does the name of a course matter? At Weston High School we recently renamed our two-year college-prep precalculus sequence. The first course, taken primarily by juniors but always including a few seniors, used to be called

Then Algebra I was pushed into the Middle School, and Precalculus was split into two years. Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II were given more informative names:

An unfortunate side-effect was that many students elected not to take Math 5, since it didn’t appear to be the second half of a two-year sequence. And several of us found those names uninformative, to say the least. Not that “Precalculus” is a perfect name, since it tells you almost nothing about the course itself. All it tells you is that it prepares for calculus — in other words, it tells you something about the

In the honors sequence, by the way, the two courses (except for the stats component) are combined into a single year, the course formerly know as

And does it make any difference? I’m hoping so...

*Math 4.*What does “Math 4” mean? Not much, actually. Back in the good old days, students didn’t take Algebra I in eighth grade as they do now. So the first math course in high school was naturally called*Math 1.*Then Geometry was called*Math 2,*Algebra II*Math 3,*and Precalculus*Math 4.*These uninformative names were logical and sequential.Then Algebra I was pushed into the Middle School, and Precalculus was split into two years. Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II were given more informative names:

*Algebra I, Geometry,*and*Algebra II.*But they were followed, of course, by*Math 4*and*Math 5.*An unfortunate side-effect was that many students elected not to take Math 5, since it didn’t appear to be the second half of a two-year sequence. And several of us found those names uninformative, to say the least. Not that “Precalculus” is a perfect name, since it tells you almost nothing about the course itself. All it tells you is that it prepares for calculus — in other words, it tells you something about the

*next*course, not about the precalculus course. Nevertheless, it’s better than*Math 4*and*Math 5.*So we have just changed the names of this two-year sequence. The old Math 4 is now called*Precalculus, Part One*; the old Math 5 is now called*Precalculus, Part Two, with Statistics*— since it not only finishes Precalculus but also includes a hefty dose of statistics. We are hoping that students who are looking for a strong preparation for calculus will realize that they ought to take both courses of this two-year sequence.In the honors sequence, by the way, the two courses (except for the stats component) are combined into a single year, the course formerly know as

*Math 4 Honors*(as you would expect). It’s now denoted by a strange symbol — no, that’s not right, it’s now called*Precalculus, Honors.*And does it make any difference? I’m hoping so...

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