Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Different Ways to Solve the Problem of Algebra

Professor Jon Star of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a former math teacher, has been working to make algebra instruction more effective. We know that algebra is a tough subject for many students and have written in the past about ways to make algebra more readily understood by middle and high school math students.

Professor Star’s project, as described in Ed. magazine and online in the Graduate School Newsletter, has two aspects: first, he is working with teacher volunteers to show them that providing more than one way to solve a problem is more effective than insisting that problems be solved in one particular way. Second, he is having math teachers include more discussion in their classrooms. The idea is not to just focus on getting the correct answer, but to discuss how that answer was found or why someone took a particular approach to solving a problem. 

Working with colleagues, Star has created a set of curriculum materials designed for middle and high school students, which incorporates these approaches to teaching algebra. The materials are available at no cost for teachers to use in addition to their regular modes of instruction. And the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences has included this approach in two new publications, a problem-solving guide for grades 4-8 and an algebra practice guide for middle and high school students.

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