Algebra in the Middle Grades

A MiddleWeb Resource Roundup

Students’ understanding of algebra seems to be more about being prepared than being a certain age. The debate goes back to the 1990’s at least, as shown in this Education World article from 1999. And there’s still disagreement.

Writing for Ed Week, Sarah D. Sparks concentrates on the lamentable results of pushing all eighth graders into algebra. Studies of urban middle schoolers in California and North Carolina show that those with weaker math backgrounds lose ground when confronted with algebra. A Harvard Education Letter article reports similar findings, but also includes researchers’ strategies to build algebraic thinking into math taught to elementary students. The article also delves into the difficulties teachers and students will face as the CCSS for math are implemented. For a quick overview of the impact of CCSS on algebra instruction, view this video presented by two math standards writers. The professors explain teaching algebraic thinking year by year through the elementary and middle grades, “by developing natural progressions between numbers, operations, and computation skills and knowledge.”

For a look at the challenges New York City teachers are experiencing as they align math – and algebra – instruction to the CCSS, read this post from Gotham Schools.

Algebra resources for kids & teachers

Several online resources can help students understand algebra. WNET and Channel 13 have posted Get the Math, a series of free videos and web interactives to show adolescents that algebra has real world applications. Real as in fashion, music, basketball and more. Other popular student-oriented sites are which shows the steps to solving submitted problems and Purplemath from a math teacher who keeps students’ need for self-confidence in mind. Students can see algebra at work in the interactive math manipulatives developed by Utah State University. Teachers may need to shift these activities from one grade level to another as states implement the CCSS with its changes in sequencing of topics. Tackling the copious K-12+ resources at GeoGebra during the summer will likely give users of the open source materials and software time to appreciate its international breadth and locate just what they need.

For a look at how to keep middle schoolers engaged in math, read Annie Murphy Paul’s MindShift post on recent research.

Susan Curtis

Susan Curtis is co-editor of In a long career, she has taught middle grades students, worked in human services, edited a variety of publications and wrangled the reference desk in libraries.

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