The Global Math Department hosts several weekly Twitter chats for math teachers on a variety of topics. Since I teach Pre-Calculus, I dropped in on the first #precalcchat of the school year last week; thanks to Mimi (I Hope This Old Train Breaks Down...) and Taoufik Nadji for hosting. Couldn't spend much time, but the topic of conversation captured my interest:

I loved that thought. It made me stop and think about how I sequence my Pre-Calculus course and why.

I start with Graphing and Functions first. To me, it's important for students to understand the basics of interpreting graphs of functions and becoming fluent with moving between different representations of a function (graphs, tables, equations). I find this to be a particularly vital theme that I want to drive home with my students, especially those who will be going on to AP Calculus or Calculus I/II in college.

Next, I follow a pretty standard sequence of Quadratics/Polynomials, Rational Functions, Exponential Functions, Logarithmic Functions, Trigonometric Functions, and Analytical Trigonometry. Again, I focus on these topics in particular to prepare my students for success in an AP Calculus course. Other topics such as Analytical Geometry, Series & Sequences, Polar Systems of Coordinates, Conics, etc. come afterward as time allows.

The other chatters all had brilliant things to say, so naturally I felt like I'm probably doing everything wrong (or maybe just some things wrong, and other things not-as-wrong).

When discussing how Pre-Calculus can seem like a re-teaching of Algebra II to students, Tina C (Drawing On Math) mentioned that her school

*starts*with Trigonometry for that exact reason.

This was an interesting idea to quite a few of us: do Trig first semester, slowly build up conceptual understanding of the unit circle, graphing, transformations, identities, etc. Then, move into the other different functions second semester.

The more I think about doing Trig first, the more appealing it seems to me. I've always found that I never seem to have enough time to really properly teach Trig and I need to either rush a few things or cut some other stuff out. I think I probably always had the notion that Trig is "more difficult," and somehow it made sense to put the "harder stuff" at the end of the year. (That's

*excellent*reasoning, isn't it?)

But really though, Trig is a bit of a stand-alone topic. It could go anywhere in the course sequence. There are certainly some underlying concepts that can be applied to other functions: graphing, transformations, moving fluently between representations, and so on. I usually think of these concepts as having to be taught and mastered

*before*doing Trig, as if Trig is the "CHALLENGE MODE" of working with functions in Pre-Calculus.

Who's to say we can't use Trig to

*teach*these concepts instead? Maybe my students would have greater success with Trig if I did it at the beginning of the year, built the concepts slowly with appropriate scaffolding, while still equipping students to be successful in working with other functions. I may have to try it out one of these years. (I already have this year mapped out -- maybe next year?)

Anyway, some great food for thought.

I'm looking forward to more of these chats this school year, and hopefully I'll find time to continue blogging & reflecting on what I take away from them.