Some of the new bloggers from the New Blogger Initiative also tackled this topic last week.
gooberspeaks got me thinking about the focus on families of functions and David Price included ideas about varying ways of representing functions and modifying their behavior. Kyle Eck has a strong bent towards applications which resonates with the GMD theme of predictions. And all these ideas muddled around in my brain for a long time before emerging as a single construct that currently satiates my desire for deeper inspection.
But that's my academic's definition. In the UbD-influenced language of a high school classroom, I'd say that Algebra 2 asks these questions:
- How can we communicate the behavior of a relationship between two ideas?
- Are there rules of behavior that apply to all relationships?
- Why is it important to be able to generalize patterns of behavior?
Functions certainly play a large role here, because it's easier to generalize patterns when there are overt rules of behavior to follow. But just as importantly, we also look at conic sections and the elusive inverses of even polynomials and periodic functions, because these ideas give us essential insight about the comforting nature of functions that are both one-to-one and onto, and about the obstacles presented by relationships that are not.
Graphing also plays a large role, because it is a most excellent tool for alternate representations of bivariate relationships. Seeing patterns emerge in the shape of coordinate graphs can be enlightening long before symbolic manipulation clears a path through the brain... and I thank the math gods for that! I am wary though of too much graphical emphasis, for our well-loved coordinate system has obvious limits as our brains allow us to consider relationships with more variables.
And applications clearly play an important role too, especially in the attempt to answer that third question. But I hesitate to put applications at the forefront of an advanced algebra theme. I think that is perhaps better handled by a physics class. In algebra we are attempting to represent scenarios with a generalized pattern of behavior, and manipulate this generalization to highlight useful information. I think I agree with Paul Salomon in that proof and 'well-crafted solutions' may trump (but certainly not replace) applications in the hierarchy of an overarching theme in algebra.
To end, I'll just say that my desire to ask (and attempt to answer) the big questions is never entirely satiated, but I do so enjoy the conversations that emerge from them. I welcome your thoughts, criticisms, and further insights. The discourse is what makes being a mathematician so much fun.
*Megan Hayes-Golding, where have you been all my life? What a terrific thing the GMD is, and one of these Tuesday nights, I will not have bedtime routines or NBI deadlines to worry about and will be able to attend a session while it is actually happening! Thanks to you and all others who are making this happen.