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The Differences Between Academic Math & Applied Math in High School

by Erica Loop

While it might seem like the students at your teen's school all take the same progression of algebra and geometry courses, this isn't always the case. Although basic math concepts are constant, your high school students may have the opportunity to learn a different type of content than her peers. If your teen has the choice between taking academic and applied math, learn the differences between the two before allowing her to make a selection.

Attributes of Academic

Academic math is the traditional type of mathematics course that you may remember from your own high school years. In this type of track, your student will typically learn core subject content and the theory behind it. An academic math class is a stepping stone to build upon for future educational endeavours, such as college. This type of math curriculum builds on each level, getting progressively more sophisticated as the student nears the college transition.

Applied Issues

Unlike an academic track -- which primarily prepares students to move on to college-level mathematics -- an applied math curriculum focuses on the more practical or career-oriented aspects of the content. Keep in mind that applied isn't the same as vocational when it comes to an educational track. Taking an applied mathematics allows your student to get more hands-on instruction and learn about the connections between the concepts and practical uses for math than he would in an academic program.

Academic Courses

The academic math track in high school is more of an umbrella term, with several different classes falling under the category. Not every school will have the exact same academic track course names, but the progression is typically similar. Additionally, your child's school most likely must align the academic math curriculum with the state's learning standards. For example, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an academic secondary math sequence could include courses such as Algebra I, Geometry I, Algebra II and so on. Another option that some schools use is a combined sequence that integrates subjects such as algebra and geometry into Mathematics 1, Mathematics 2 and Mathematics 3.

Applied Content

Applied math in high school can help a struggling student to get back on track, teaching her basic skills and relating the knowledge to real-life situations. This may also include how math is used in the workplace. For example, the Mohall/Lansford/Sherwood High School in Mohall, N.D., offers an applied math course that includes basic arithmetic operations and problem-solving techniques as well as job-related skills such as data handling and statistics. While this type of class may provide your teen with the math requirements necessary to graduate, it might not meet a college's criteria for an acceptable entry-level course.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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