Los Altos High offers Multivariable Calculus for advanced students

Photo By: Ellie Van HOutte/ Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier

Los Altos High School instructor Michael Richardson conducts the Multivariable Calculus class last week. Los Altos High is among the first high schools in California to offer the advanced math class for college credit.

Future engineers and physicists at Los Altos High School have the opportunity to pursue their advanced math education this year, as the school became one of California’s first public schools to offer a Multivariable Calculus class.

Calculus is usually taught in three stages, with the first two typically offered at the high school level. Because so many local students finish with their calculus classes junior year, a gap remains before they can take the third class, Multivariable Calculus, in college.

Multivariable Calculus picks up where Advanced Placement Calculus BC leaves off and requires students to build on the skills they learned in BC to solve more complex problems. The class is essential for higher-level math, physics and engineering.

“It is learning how to use calculus in a wide variety of three-dimensional applications,” said Michael Richardson, class instructor.

Such applications include describing how planetary bodies move or economic systems work.

Richardson, who had a gap in his own calculus instruction between high school and college, said he wishes he hadn’t experienced that lapse in learning.

Continuing calculus without a gap in instruction better prepares students for success in higher education, particularly because Los Altos High produces many graduates who pursue degrees in mathematics, engineering or physics.

The class currently enrolls approximately 15 students, mostly seniors, and two-hour sessions are scheduled after school Mondays and Wednesdays. The hope is that as more students enroll, the school will offer the class as part of its standard curriculum.

Richardson said he was eager to teach the class when approached about it. He has been teaching Alternate Path Geometry, Advanced Placement Calculus BC and Advanced Placement Computer Science (another new class this year).

“I like all calculus,” he said. “I studied physics in college, and this is the level of calculus that most deals with three dimensions and physics.”

Richardson earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from the University of Utah.

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