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Algebra II with Trig Question – Is my Son Ready?

Question from a mom!

My homeschooled son struggles in high school math. He is very bright and has taken Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry with Teaching Textbooks. However, he is not a “math mind” and scored low on his yearly tests. He is going into his senior year, and I fear for his SAT/ ACT scores. He is very, very intelligent but is not a good test-taker and does not take naturally to mathematical concepts as they have been presented. How does your curriculum compare to Teaching Textbooks, and does your Algebra II/ with Trig. require that students be math geniuses already? Do you think he could be introduced to your curriculum and do well?
I am a concerned mama…I would so appreciate a detailed/ helpful review/ analysis. Thank you so much.

Answer from Dr. Callahan:

We are college based, where Teaching Textbooks are a high school-based curriculum. What does that mean? Generally, taking our stuff is much better prep for ACT/SAT and college. Does ours require genius? Not hardly. In fact, to some, it is easier because we teach concepts instead of formulas.

For instance, if you put me in a  kitchen to cook, I can do OK with a recipe. But, I do not understand cooking and food concepts well enough just to throw something together (edible). However, someone who can cook and understands stuff knows the CONCEPTS and can do well.

The ACT and SAT exams test the student’s understanding of CONCEPTS. Many students thrive on concepts but hate being put in a box of rules (recipes) which are often part of high school math. So he might be better than you think he is!

Here is what I would do in your situation.  Get ACT/SAT coaching ASAP. This will help you both determine where he stands. I would HIGHLY recommend someone who can work with him directly like Lauren (See Note the discount code!!!! He is a senior – I would do this NOW.

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Algebra II with Trig Ch8.3 #26

Question from Elisha:

I just took the Trig. Final Test for your Alg. 2/ Trig. Course.  My mom and I were checking it and on problem 26 from section 8.3, my answer is different from the one you give in the answers.  I see that you add 45 degrees to the 25-degree angle and I didn’t.  I’m not sure exactly why that is and what I did wrong.  I have attached a photocopy of my work.  Could you tell me if my answer is wrong and if so why? Thanks for your help.  I have really enjoyed the course. J Elisha

Answer from Dr. Callahan: 

You are missing one key thing…the angle between 15mph and 3.9 mph is not 25 degrees.

The angle between due north and the direction is 25degrees. The angle between the direction of the boat and the direction of the water should be 70degrees. See example 1 again.

Here is the solution worked out in a drawing. A2T Ch8.3#26

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Algebra II with Trig Ch3.4. Absolute Value

Question from Rachel:

Question involving absolute value in Algebra 2: 3.4.

Example 5 on page 233 states that “If X<0, then |x| = -x.

That really confused me. I thought that absolute value was just that – absolute! There are not supposed to be any negatives involved, right?

But obviously, there are, and I’m not sure why. I’d appreciate some help. Thank you!

Answer from Dr. Callahan:

I know it looks confusing – but note that they are NOT saying |x| = -x — but instead they are looking for a trick to help break up the complex function into pieces.

See top of page 232.

This is saying that anytime you have a function with absolute value – you know it is likely to be a piecewise function – in other words it will break somewhere like this one does

Homeschool Math Algebra II with Trig To get NORMAL functions, we need to break this into two parts (sometimes more) so we can get an equation like on top of page 234 – a piecewise arrangement.

So this replacement is mostly a trick to make it work.

For instance – think about breaking up

y = |x| into piecewise.

It looks like this

Homeschool Math Algebra II with Trig Absolute Value To write the function, we have one part for x >= 0 and then one part for x<0.

To find this we let |x| = x when x>=0 and then |x| = -x when x<0. This swaps the signs for you – a trick. Try it by making a table of x and y for value positive an negative of y = |x|.
So again – this is more a trick to break it up than a FACT. See in the example right next the the word SOLUTION is says we are trying to break this up into a form that does NOT involve |x|.

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Algebra II with Trig Course Length

Question from Kathyrn:

It appears the DVD and Guides only go through Chapter 8. Is this correct? If so, are there plans for going through the entire book with DVD and Guides?

Answer from Dr. Callahan:

Yes, it goes only through chapter 8.

We have no schedule for doing more, but it is planned. However, you do not need them to move onto calculus.

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Why McGraw-Hill Over Prentice Hall for Algebra II with Trigonometry?

Question from Kathryn: 

Is there a reason why you use McGraw-Hill over the Prentice Hall Algebra II & Trigonometry? We’re coming from Jacobs Algebra I & Geometry and I want to keep the same teaching style for my son.

Answer from Dr. Callahan:

Our view on textbooks is not to keep the same teaching style, but instead to prepare students for college and life. Therefore, our goal was to find popular college level textbooks. See
for more information on this thought.

While I am sure that having the same teaching style over and over is great for short term learning – it actually limits the students ability in the long term.

Hope this helps.


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Ready for Algebra II with Trig after Geometry?

Question from Diane:

My son is using your Geometry course and is doing very well. Geometry seems to be an easier subject for him than Algebra was. I want to use the next course, Algebra 2 with Trig, but I am concerned because he had a difficult time with Algebra 1 (even with the dvd’s). What do you suggest?

Answer from Dr. Callahan:

Put extra focus on those algebra reviews in the geometry book. If he struggles with some of them, take time to review the subject. He is getting more algebra than you think doing geometry anyway – but that review should help lock it in. I might have him go back and do a final test (again) in algebra when he completes geometry to see if he is still weak in areas. It would be worth it spending time reviewing algebra again after geometry if he has not gotten it yet. When done – let us know how it looks and we can suggest some specifics.

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Algebra II with Trig Ch4.2

Question from Rachel:

I’m on 4.2 of Algebra 2 at the moment.  I made it through the lesson and understood it until I got to the last section, titled “Finding Rational and Imaginary Zeros.” I understood most of that with the exception of a couple of things. Here are my questions.

#1) Why, when using synthetic division to find the zeros of the polynomial does the book only use the positive version of the possible numbers? For example, +/-1 and +/-5 were the possible rational zeros in Example 5. In the division table, they only used a positive 1. I know that was because they found the zero right off, but from what they’ve been doing, they would only have used positive 1 and positive 5. Could you tell me why?

#2) In the matched problem after example 5, the polynomial looks like this:
P(x) = X^4 + 4X^3 + 10X^2 + 12X + 5.

When you find the possible rational zeros (+/- 1 and +/- 5), and plug them into the synthetic division table, none of them (as positive numbers – like the book has been using) turn out to be zeros!
On the 5 for example, 5 times 1 is 5. Added to 4, it becomes 9. 9 times 5 is 40. Added to 10 it becomes 50. 5 times 50 is 250. Added to 12, it becomes 262. 5 times 262 is 1310. Added to 5, it is 1315.

Now I know that that’s not supposed to be happening. I just don’t know why it is! It seems like there needs to be some negatives somewhere to cancel things out. I could use some help figuring it out.

Thanks for all your help! I appreciate it!

Answer from Dr. Callahan:

The book only used the positive numbers in Ex 5 because they just started there and they happened to work. Nothing else, just they started with the easiest.

In the other, 5 does not work because it is not a zero. Just because you have POSSIBLE zeros, does not mean they work. You are testing values to see which work and which do not. When they do, you have factored it down.


This shows that you have ONE zero here at x=-1. Also, note that you cannot factor anymore since there are no other REAL zeros.

Remember, the whole thing here is just a tool to find placed where the equation =0.

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Algebra 2 with Trigonometry vs Precalculus

AskDrCallahan Calculus 1

What’s the difference between Algebra 2 with Trig and Precalculus?

Here is our view…
  • Algebra 2 with Trigonometry and Precalculus are usually the same thing with very little difference. If you put the Alg 2 with Trig book and the Precalc book by the same author/publisher side by side and compare their “Table of Contents,” you will find them almost identical.  Why do the publishers do this? Marketing. If a school requests precalc, they want to have something to offer. If they want Alg 2 with Trig, they’ve got that too. Do not miss a sale because of a cover.  While you might find some texts that differ, I would not get caught in the mud worrying about these minor differences. See below for ACT/SAT info. This marketing works fine for public/private/coop settings where the administration is setting your path. However, when homeschooling and making your own path, it can be confusing!


  • If a student takes Algebra 2 only, then they need some trig.  Students can easily do one semester in Trig using our book and videos, or even something like a Trig for Dummies book. As long as they get the basics of trig formulas, simplification of trig identities, the law of sines and cosines, and some practical uses, they are good. They can take a year to do each. Give a credit for Algebra 2 one year, and then do Trig for the next year for another credit.


  • ACT and SAT are key to college scholarship and admission. I am not saying teach to the test – but yes, teach to the test. These exams are written so the student MUST understand the material to do well – at least in the math part. This is all you need for college and for $$ for college. The big problem in college calculus is a lack of understanding of basic algebra. Students often can do the work if they see examples of like problems, but given something new, they do not know the concepts enough to make it work. So, they flunk out of college calculus.


  • Cookbook math – related to ACT/SAT we often tell people math is like cooking. I can cook a decent meal with a cookbook if I follow the instructions. However, this hardly makes me a chef since I do not understand how ingredients go together. A true cook can be let loose with ingredients and make up a delicious meal. They understand how things work. Math is like this. Too often we teach cookbook math, meaning the student can only solve a problem if formulated in the steps they have seen before. But, if thrown a real-world problem, they are lost. I realize this is not so much about Alg 2, etc – but this is a HUGE issue we see in science and engineering. We have a huge demand for people to do this kind of work, but most cannot hack it because they are cookbook math people. Good math programs teach students to think, not just calculate. Students aren’t calculators. They are created to think.

I hope all that helps you see that your student only needs one or the other – Algebra 2 with Trig or Precalculus. A rose by any other name…..

Here is a link to our recommended Scope and Sequence for high school. It will help you see a four or five-year approach to the high school level math subjects. If you have the extra year to spend, it’s okay to slow down Algebra 2 and Trig and use a year for each. If your student is late deciding to do four maths, you can do some of the math subjects in one semester. We have students that do Geometry or Trigonometry over one semester (or even summer) to get them ahead and be sure to fit in Calculus before graduation.

No need to put them through two almost identical courses. They will get frustrated and bored repeating instead of moving forward and that’s no fun for Mom either!

We hope this helps you with the Algebra 2 w/Trig vs PreCalculus confusion.
More details in The Math Problem.