Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Math Lit FAQ: Does Math Lit include factoring?

Answer:  Yes and no.

We include some factoring in Math Lit but the treatment is not the usual treatment given in algebra texts.  The reasons for that are logistical and philosophical.  First, there's only so much time.  In 4 months (1 semester), we are working to take a developmental student to college level.  There is a lot to be done and learned in that time.  So there isn't time to do all the traditional topics we once did and all the rich problem solving along with new topics.  We had to make decisions on what was most important.

Second, the decision to give factoring an abbreviated treatment was a philosophical one.  Heather and I decided early on that we would not cover topics in the book just for historical purposes.  Just because something has always been taught does not mean it is still relevant.  At one point in history, students had to know Latin to graduate from college.  But times change and so do requirements.  Factoring is rarely used in realistic settings.  Factoring the GCF is useful for rewriting formulas, so we cover that.  We also talk about factored form and its advantages.  The traditional treatment of factoring implies factoring will occur often so every technique is necessary.  But factored form really isn't talked about in any meaningful way.  Students don't see why factoring might be valuable and why it might not work (outside of simple prime polynomials).

The traditional reasoning for inclusion of factoring is that it develops critical thinking skills and prepares students for the algebra to come.  We already have critical thinking in spades in Math Lit.  Inclusion of factoring as a mental exercise is not a sufficient reason.  Also, it is not necessary for success in the non-STEM classes MLCS feeds into.

Until our STEM curriculum is updated, STEM-bound students need to factor.  So we cover it heavily in our intermediate algebra class, a course students can take after MLCS if they want to bridge to the STEM track.

Still, some schools want to factor in MLCS.  And that's certainly their prerogative.  MLCS does not have one set of objectives; it is meant to flex to the local and state needs of a college.  So some colleges add some additional sections on factoring.  Others make sure factoring is covered in detail in the first STEM course students may take after MLCS, something that benefits all students, not just ones coming from MLCS.

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