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Tag: algebra (Page 2 of 2)

Looking for the Hows and Whys

In her continuing struggle with the Algebra II class that she’s taking this year, Post staff writer Michael Alison Chandler blogs about her quiz last week.

The topic was solving systems of linear equations and while she thinks she understands the process of doing matrix arithmetic, Chandler is confused about other factors.

It’s difficult to describe how or why math works. It’s easier to just write the formula and say, “Do this.” Several readers have commented on this blog that what’s often missing from math education is more of a focus on why certain applications work. I agree. It’s harder to remember what to do, if you don’t have some sense of why it works.

Knowing why the formula works would be excellent, although Chandler is probably in the minority among high school Algebra II students in wanting to move beyond the basic mechanics of getting the task done.

However, even more important would be if she and the rest of her class were learning how people actually use this process to solve real problems.

Overdue Follow Up

A few weeks ago I wrote about a reporter for the Post who was going back to high school to take Algebra II and blog about her experiences.

However, I forgot to follow up with a link when she started.

Anyway, go read what she has to say at x=why? (clever title) and leave your comments, if you don’t mind registering with the Post site.

Back to the Books

Speaking of reporting from the inside, a writer for the Washington Post will be blogging while taking an Algebra II class at one of the high schools here in the overly large school district.

Over the school year, The Washington Post will revisit scatter plots and polynomials, word problems and standardized tests to explore how and why math education is ramping up. The series will examine how ready students and teachers are for the change, and what it takes to convince a roomful of teenagers — whose parents probably could not help them with their homework — that, yes, they might actually use algebra later in life.

I’m not sure what he means by being ready for a “change” since the curriculum is pretty much the same as has been used for decades.

From the slide show accompanying the article, I also don’t see much change in the teaching methods being used (no graphing calculators?).

And then there’s this:

Keisha Sogueco, 16, a junior in Colclaser’s class who described herself as “not really a math person,” said she agrees that math is important because it “keeps you thinking.” But asked how function notation may play a role later in life, she said, “I’m not really sure.”

This classmate is trying to answer the same question. For now, we are preoccupied with plodding through an 1,100-page textbook, solving word problems that involve Mr. Ito filling up a tank of water at the rate of nine gallons per minute and graphing equations point by point.

I suspect that this reporter, along with most members of the class, will arrive at the end of the school year able to perform the mechanics of Algebra but understanding very little about why anyone would want to do it.

However, it will be interesting to follow the posts.

Advanced Elementary Math

Once upon a time, most high school students took Algebra in their freshman year. If they took the subject at all.

Now, in most of the districts around here, Algebra I is fast becoming a class for most 8th graders. Or earlier.

Public schools nationwide are working to increase the number of students who study Algebra I, the traditional first-year high school math course, in eighth grade. Many Washington area schools have gone further, pushing large numbers of students two or three years ahead of the grade-level curriculum.

Math study in Montgomery County has evolved from one or two academic paths to many. Acceleration often begins in kindergarten. In a county known for demanding parents, the math push has generated an unexpected backlash. Many parents say children are pushed too far, too fast.

Other area school systems also are pushing students far beyond grade-level math. The goal is to shorten the time it takes students to reach Algebra I and broaden access to a course considered a foundation for later success on the SAT, in Advanced Placement study and in college.

More than one fourth of elementary students in our overly-large school district are on an accelerated track that will put them in Algebra I in the 7th grade.

Evidently, in addition to success on the SAT and AP tests, some of this acceleration is also due to pressure from parents who say their kids are bored with “regular” math.

And the only solution, of course, is to shove more advanced math classes down into lower grades.

I’d be willing to bet that most of these students don’t come out of the instruction with a good understanding of Algebraic concepts, although they probably get very good at cranking through the rote mechanical processes that has the appearance doing Algebra.

However, it’s that repetitive, mechanical, test-driven approach to teaching math that makes the subject boring in the first place. Especially in the elementary and middle grades.

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