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University serves up algebra-free math class

A new mathematics course is on the menu at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette this fall: MATH 102. Freshmen who major in non-science areas may take the course, which emphasizes quantitative reasoning, as an alternative to college algebra.

Three faculty members created the course: Dr. Kathleen Lopez, an associate professor of mathematics, Melissa Myers, a master instructor, and Christy Sue Langley, a mathematics instructor.

Nationally, universities are moving away from formula-based teaching, toward concept-oriented, practical applications of mathematics, said Myers, who is also director of freshman mathematics at the University.

She said this course will likely appeal to the majority of students enrolled in the College of the Arts and the College of Liberal Arts.

In the past, college algebra was the first mathematics course taken by all undergraduates. There are two paths students follow upon completion of their initial math course. One path is taken primarily by business and science-oriented majors, who are required to take advanced mathematics courses. The other path is for non-science majors. The courses they take emphasize applied mathematics.

"Creating a college algebra alternative designed specifically for non-science majors will enable us to better serve these two different populations," said Myers.
Course topics in MATH 102 include traditional concepts, such as linear and exponential functions, as well as topics designed to increase students' ability to reason quantitatively.  The course emphasizes critical thinking.

"Our primary goal is to make students better educated. As consumers, for instance, we're constantly exposed to advertisements. Upon completion of this course, our students will be better educated consumers who are able to recognize misleading advertisements."

Some of the skills students will learn include:

• mentally estimating the sale price of an item that has been discounted;

• determining which of two possible financial situations is most advantageous;

• applying deductive and inductive reasoning, such as understanding the error of statements such as “All services not available in all areas.”

• reading and interpreting graphs, particularly recognizing graphs which have been designed to intentionally mislead;

• computing the consequences of not paying off a “no-money down, two-years interest free” purchase during the interest-free period;

• comparing a flat-rate subscription movie site to a service which charges an initial fee plus per-movie charge;

• using proportional reasoning to determine which size of product is the best deal; and

• recognizing when it is appropriate to use the phrase “growing exponentially.”

"Students will be able to use the reasoning and mathematical skills they learn in this course to enhance their decision-making skills, both personally and professionally," Myers added.