Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Algebra Project at a Local School

According to California's math standards, Algebra 1 is generally taken in 8th grade. So what is Robert Moses' Algebra Project doing being taught at nearby average-performing elementary school?

Beats me. But let's sample some choice quotes from California Educator:

Recognizing that their students needed more support in math, the Allison teachers sought out and developed the Algebra Project at their school site - initially as an after-school program, and then as part of their curriculum. The teachers not only implemented the program, they've worked to make sure it is aligned with state standards.

So they're teaching "algebra" to elementary students who need extra support in math? That pegs out my cynicism meter.

The Algebra Project was founded in 1982 by Harlem-born and Harvard-educated civil rights leader Dr. Robert P. Moses, who once said, "Becoming literate in mathematics is a life-and-death issue for the black community. If we don't get it, we're headed for a new form of serfdom."

No argument there.

Since the program (at the local school) was just implemented in the fall, it has yet to be determined if it will boost test scores, but teachers are hopeful, and researchers at UC Davis are closely monitoring the project and collecting data to determine if introducing algebra at an earlier age is efficacious.

If it is, in fact, "efficacious", that would put lie to the statement that algebra isn't "developmentally appropriate" for 8th graders when ordinary elementary students are doing it. Then again, we don't really know if it's "algebra" that's being taught or just something the school calls algebra.

Not to be lost in the pedagogy is the community organizing aspect of the project.

They had to go there, didn't they?


Anonymous said...

It kind of reminds me of the time I saw a flier for a church holding a "teen dance" that was open to 9-12 year olds only.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... "family math nights"? Oh yeah, a rousing game of Monopoly.

Thanks for pointing out the "community organizing" BS. What gets me is the way that Comrade Commissar Sanchez and his loyal band of propagandists almost always identify teachers not as a "faculty member of XYZ school" but rather as "member of Yadda Yadda School Association". Its rather reminiscent of "Party member".

MiaZagora said...

I don't think they should brag about Dr. Robert P. Moses being "Harvard educated"...the POTUS was Harvard educated as well, and look at his math skills. ;)

PeggyU said...

What does community organizing have to do with math? I so did not learn that at school!

As to Algebra I in grade school ... I'm not even sure the Chinese do that! I am skeptical as well. I have had one student (an unusually accelerated one) who took algebra through an online class from Stanford. Other than that, I can't see where anything can be gained if students don't have a base of solid arithmetic skills to build on. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some very confused 6th graders as a result of this!

allen (in Michigan) said...

This may be an example of "cargo cult" education.

The professionals involved are confused. Pressure to educate kids is escalating what with NCLB and Race to the Top.

For people who've never, in their professional lives, had to treat education as the primary motivation for their employment this is a strange situation. So they're reacting to the novelty of the situation by trying anything that even appears to approximate education.

Will this work? Who knows? At least it can be pointed to as evidence that education is somewhere on the priority list and perhaps that'll be enough to satisfy this strange, new demand. Perhaps that pretense will be satisfactory until this strange, new madness passes and education can once again become the subject of fads and an opportunity to showcase the modernity of the fad's promoters.

Anonymous said...


I'm pretty sure that Algebra is developmentally appropriate for 8th graders. Russian mathematics education introduces Algebra in 6th grade (these are 12 year olds in Russia). The kids are ready for Calculus in 11th grade (although I expect that many don't take it ... just like here).

If I understand the Singapore math sequence, they get to Algebra around 7th grade.

In fact, as nearly as I can tell, *most* of Europe and Asia gets their kids to Algebra around 7th grade. The US is a big outlier in traditionally waiting until 9th grade for algebra.

Now ... is it reasonable to teach US 5th and 6th graders some algebra? I don't see why not. It isn't *that* hard to teach how to solve/simplify single variable equations (e.g. 3X + 14 = 98, solve for X). This is algebra, no? Simple algebra, I'll grant, but algebra all the same.

-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

I wonder how what the school's math standardized test scores are like. And if those kids (who come from a working class neighborhood) can be 2 years ahead of California's math standards, then more power to them and we should be looking at what that school's doing correctly.

California's grade level math standards are available at the state Dept of Education's web site.

Anonymous said...

I do not see anywhere in the article that they claim to be two years ahead of California standards.

They *do* claim to be doing algebra in 5th or 6th grade, but this isn't the same thing as:

(a) Doing a full California standard algebra class, or
(b) Claiming to have all the California pre-reqs for algebra.

As an example of (b), one could begin teaching algebra before kids had learned decimals or percents. I'm pretty sure that California puts these two subjects before algebra, so that wouldn't be that the kids were two years ahead ... just that they were doing *some* 8th or 9th grade work in the 5th or 6th grade.

Good for them, but we shouldn't assume 2 years of acceleration without more reason to do so.

-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

True, but they shouldn't be teaching the algebra standards unless the students have already achieved the K-7 standards first.

What is to be gained by teaching "algebra" without, for example, decimals or fractions?

Anonymous said...

What is to be gained by teaching "algebra" without, for example, decimals or fractions?

I carefully left out "fractions" from my excluded pre-req list.

Once can teach all of algebra w/o decimals. And one can teach a fair amount w/o fractions (the teacher just needs to make the problems very carefully).

One reason to do this is that doing spaced repetition/practice of a handful of problems in many areas each day is much less boring than doing, say, 50 problems ALL OF THE SAME TYPE. :-)

My 8-year-old works this way ... he'd much rather have 3 or 4 perimeter/area problems, then a few line/angle problems, then a few single variable algebra problems, then a few multi-digit multiplication, then ... as opposed to, say, 30-40 perimeter/area problems one day, then 30-40 line/angle problems the next.

I don't know that this is what the folks here are doing, but I can make an argument for introducing Algebra earlier than we currently do.

-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

I preferred all the same type when I was a kid.

Ellen K said...

It is interesting that someone brought up the Russian model for math, because when I was in college it was against the law for a teacher in the USSR to teach any child to read before they were seven. The reasoning was that since boys often didn't develop the physical ability to track-a necessity in reading-until they were almost seven, that it gave other children an unfair academic advantage. So this points to the problem with pushing kids to rote memorization rather than true learning. For example, I have kids who read very nicely, but understand precious little of what is read. So what's the point? Sure, you can have little kids doing spectacular math, but that doesn't mean they have the deeper learning and comprehension of what it all means. I just about gag every time that stupid ad about teaching babies to read comes on. Can't we let kids be kids and let them progress without feeling the need to push them faster than they can go just to make things look good on paper? Let the kids who can, go faster. It's time to get rid of this avoidance of grouping kids by abilities when that helps them learn best.

Anonymous said...

In the district where I teach, basic algebra is introduced to advanced 5th graders and all 6th graders via hands-on equations. It is a wonderful program and gives students concrete manipulatives to use in solving single variable algebra problems. Some teachers do this once a week, and others do it for 10 minutes or so every day. They have been using it for years (almost 15) and it seems to work nicely. We have students in 8th grade math classes who are doing matrices and succeeding quite well. Is that to say that all of our students are performing math on grade-level or above, absolutely not, but they do have a concrete framework for understanding the more abstract algebra.

Darren said...

While I like Hands-On Equations for solving simple linear equations, there's much more to algebra than solving 2x-5=6 (a problem that HOE would have trouble with). I'd rather students have mastered the prerequisites of algebra--fractions, decimals, percents, positive/negative numbers, times tables--before starting actual algebra.

Algebra is not a gimmick.

Anonymous said...

I believe that if you look carefully, you will find that the Algebra Project provides a plan that starts in elementary school so that kids will be ready for Algebra by 8th grade. It does not drop them into Algebra I right away.