Did you know that research shows that students who complete a mathematics course beyond the level of Algebra II more than double the odds of pursuing and completing post-secondary education (Adelman, 1999). Many school districts now require completion of an Algebra I course prior to completion of 9th grade (Loveless, 2008). In California, however many students are failing Algebra and if students are failing Algebra then it is likely they will not be attending college. In fact according to an Edsource (2011) report of those students who were enrolled in 8th grade Algebra 1, nearly one-third of students scored “below basic” or “far below basic”. Across the country failure of Algebra can run as high as fifty percent, such an alarming statistics calls into question how Algebra is taught and moreover how students are prepared.

There is little agreement as to what prerequisite skills will lead to later success in Algebra. Although there is some fascinating research that examines how young children are capable of understanding Algebra concepts at a much younger age than once believed. Most recently, Brizuela and colleagues (2012) followed 19 students in grades 3,4, and 5 throughout middle school. The experimental group received weekly algebra lessons plus homework and were compared with a control group. Results showed that students in the experimental group outperformed their peers on algebra assessments given in grades 5, 7, and 8.

If our goal is to promote student understanding of Algebra so that students feel comfortable, using multiple strategies within a representation, analyze situations and making connections between representations than what approaches should teachers incorporate to make algebra meaningful and moreover students successful?

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## About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.

I think there is the complicating factor of loosely using the term “Algebra.” Those ages 18 or so and up will conjure an image of a course made up of graphing lines, writing equations for lines, solving systems of linear equations, studying order of operations, working with exponents, and some quadratics and polynomials sprinkled in at the end. With college- and career-ready standards, a good 60% or more of what used to be “Algebra” is taught in grade 8 or earlier. Secondly, children understanding algebraic thinking might be more accurate than “Algebra concepts,” which again conjure something quite different in most adults… but no one would disagree that ideas such as 4 + ? = 6 are within the reach of young children, and if given adequate experiences framed around properties of numbers and of operations, they can indeed grasp and master these ideas early on.

Although a formal course in Algebra is where lack of math understanding is first observed, I think it is fair to say that this lack of understanding goes back significantly further than 8th or 9th grade. The teaching strategies of helping students make meaning, of making mathematical connections explicit, and of balancing procedural skills with conceptual understanding and the ability to apply known mathematics to new and unique situations, is not just the duty of the Algebra teacher, but rather the work of all math educators, K-12.

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