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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Calculus serves as the fundamental building block in many career paths

Eric Shi
Derivative is in fact a very nice word to say, especially if you want to make it past the first month of a Calculus class.

As a fundamental pillar of higher mathematics, calculus is extensively taught in high schools across the world. And for good reason: Calculus is a genuinely useful subject — it not only lays the groundwork for advanced mathematics like real analysis, but it also enables tangible applications ranging from calculating the length of power cables connecting buildings to improving the acoustics of various rooms and instruments. 

At Saratoga High, students have three main options for learning calculus — through regular college prep Calculus, AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC. These courses are designed to build on each other — regular Calculus is solely a high school level calculus course while Calculus AB and BC are both college level courses, with AB covering the equivalent of Calculus I in college and BC covering both Calculus I and Calculus II material. Content in each class somewhat overlaps and the more advanced AP courses cover material at a faster rate.

For many students, these calculus courses are the bane of their high school experience. But what many fail to understand is that calculus benefits students by allowing for deeper understanding in related fields of science and providing tools for calculation that are widely applicable in future STEM careers. 

One of the main sciences with a heavy reliance on calculus is general physics. For example, calculus helps explain the movement of objects under the influence of various forces and fields. 

One of the biggest examples in physics where calculus is important and necessary is when finding the work done on an object due to an external force. Without calculus, a very select few problems can be solved — namely those where the force applied is always constant. However, with calculus, a wider range of problems in this category can be solved.

This is not the case for most real-world situations. It is almost impossible to launch a rocket into space at a perfectly constant acceleration, for example. Thus, calculus is needed to accurately find the work done on an object for a non-constant force. 

Other than coursework, calculus is an integral part in the professional world, too. Consider structural engineering, where calculus is used to calculate heat loss in buildings, forces acting on complex structural configurations and structural analysis in seismic design requirements — which is especially important here in California. For those looking for STEM jobs in the future, knowing calculus well opens up dozens of career possibilities.

Calculus is also prevalent in the world of medicine, where the spread of disease can be modeled by a logistic function, a topic covered in the second semester of AP Calculus BC. Oncologists use more complex logistic functions to analyze the growth of cancer tumors and pandemic epidemiologists can use them to track the spread of future diseases like COVID-19. In these ways, calculus is necessary for measuring risks to personal and public health and finding solutions to contain the spread of disease. 

Many people assert their dislike for calculus mainly because it is a hard class. And while calculus is an inherently difficult subject, learning it thoroughly matters more than the grade. 

Even for non-STEM students, calculus can change the way people understand their world. Outside of academia, it is short sighted to assert that in the professional world, calculus is useless. Far from it. Calculus, a key component in many jobs, will always be a foundational part of any worthwhile high school math curriculum.

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