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Functions, Data, and Models: An Applied Approach to College Algebra

Sheldon P. Gordon and Florence S. Gordon
Mathematical Association of America
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
MAA Textbooks
[Reviewed by
Tom Schulte
, on

As someone who teaches college algebra, I have seen my share of college algebra texts. I form my opinion of all of them, which is generally mixed. This is the first that I have read and found to be innovative. It leaves me enthusiastic about the possibilities of improving the traditional approach to this well-worn undergraduate course. This textbook considers the student as more likely destined for their career soon rather than going on to higher level study in mathematics. For students on a more academic or scientific track, this text does subtly and effectively motivate an approach to reasoning that prepares the student for proofs. There is a level of intellectual demand made here that is preparation for rigor and the real world.

How algebra is used in the "real world" is the not uncommon goal of this eight-chapter work. To meet that goal, the authors have diverged from the approach taken by classic algebra books. It is obvious that the authors envision the readers of this book as on their way to mid-level careers in fields such as biology, chemistry, business, finance, economics, etc. The focus is on developing mathematical literacy that supports problem-solving and mathematical modeling, presented with detailed, supportive explanation. I’ve often seen students master the contents of a textbook chapter and be able to do cubic regression on their graphing calculator for a set of data and find all extrema. However, I know most of them will be soon sitting in front of Excel uncertain which is the dependent data and which regression option to pick.

This textbook bridges that gap while also developing the algebraic skills that might be needed in calculus. I also appreciate that there is an entire chapter devoted to introducing the basic periodic functions of trigonometry. I have always felt it a disservice to college algebra students that generally all possible trigonometric connection to polynomials and regression are left to another semester when such ripe opportunities to explore that relationship are at hand.

Standard section arrangement includes example problems backed up by exercises to be solved at the end of the section. Examples are often on familiar subjects such as sports, weather, money, and population. Excel packages available at the book’s site support data analysis and mathematical modeling presented at a level that students with limited algebraic skills can understand. Several appendixes at the back cover such topics as linear regression and complex numbers. They also include a broad set of 2009 world population data to use in projects for growth rates, correlation, etc. There are also answers to selected problems.

Tom Schulte teaches college algebra at community college campuses in Michigan.

The table of contents is not available.