Understanding Trigonometry

Written by Tara Peris
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Understanding trigonometry is a prerequisite for calculus at most high schools. As calculus is a challenging and complex subject, it is critical that students approach it with a firm foundation in advanced algebra and trigonometry. Indeed, it is near impossible to succeed in advanced mathematics without these elementary skills.

Most students are tracked into math ability groupings early in their academic career. These groupings determine the math class in which they will begin (e.g., algebra versus advanced algebra), and how quickly they will move through material throughout the year. Given this structure, most students have little say in which math classes they will take in high school. The progression of anticipated course work is set before them, and each year they are expected to take the next logical course in the sequence.

Understanding Trigonometry as a Prerequisite for Calculus

Students who are less math-inclined may progress from an introduction to algebra to intro geometry and advanced algebra before enrolling in trigonometry during senior year. Alternatively, some students may begin high school at a more advanced math level and be ready to enroll in calculus by the end of their academic tenure. This is where they begin to have some choice restored, as few schools nationwide require calculus for graduation and it is up to the student to decide her preference.

The benefits of calculus are clear, in that one is eligible to take advanced placement exams and may then be able to opt out of certain college requirements. At the same time, the rigors of the course are also well known, and it is important that students approach calculus understanding trigonometry and algebraic principles fully. Many students who prefer to take a leisurely senior-year course load opt out of this challenge. Instead, they may focus on understanding trigonometry through advanced course work in trig, or on leaving the math slot in their schedule open for course offerings in other fields.

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