Year after year, algebra is the only subject that consistently causes problems for even the most hard-working students and most dedicated teachers. Why?
Perhaps the problem lies with the curriculum material and not our students or teachers.
Fifty years ago, algebra was a preparatory course taught only to a few college-bound high school students. Then, we started requiring algebra for all high-school students.
and soon after, we began teaching algebra in middle school.
These days, we even cover certain critical algebra concepts in elementary schools.
Although algebra surely has a place in the early grades, the way we teach it, using the same old textbook methods developed over a century ago for much older students, cannot possibly cater to the needs of all these younger students. Might this be the root cause of our problems with algebra?
Let’s consider this another way. When feeding a baby, we start with milk or formula because their delicate digestive system cannot handle other food.
Gradually, we introduce simple purees and cereals as they develop the ability to digest.
Little by little, these transitional foods teach their internal organs to handle a more complex diet.
We do the same thing when we teach our kindergarteners how to ride a bike.
We don’t start them off on a full-sized bike.
Their limbs are too short, their movements not fully coordinated. We start them on a small bike with training wheels to support the transition to riding on their own.
Now, your kindergartener has become a middle school child or even a high school freshman. Going from simple arithmetic to complex algebraic thinking is equally difficult, if not harder than all the previous transitions combined. Worse still, there is no carefully planned transition. No gradual introduction to the new way of thinking.
How can we expect them to do well when all we do is hand them a traditional adult algebra textbook and with no preparation, assume they are able to digest it? The logical conclusion is that they can’t, and their test results support this assumption.
It turns out, we knew a long time ago that starting with traditional Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 curricula would have serious, far-reaching consequences, not only for middle school children, but for high schoolers too.
Both traditional Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 are very efficient materials to teach or learn, but only after a student is ready for them. For years, education researchers have been telling schools not to teach the same algebra early to young students.
Instead, we should be implementing a developmentally appropriate early algebra for our beginning students so that we can train their brains to accept the new way of thinking required to effectively learn algebra.
Those researchers even use the terms “Early Algebra” and “Algebra Early” to promote awareness.
The problem is that we didn’t know exactly what developmentally appropriate early algebra looked like until now. So, what comes before Algebra 1 and Algebra 2?
The reason so many capable students struggle with Algebra 1 or 2 is simply because they never started with Algebra Zero first. Just like a baby going straight to solid food immediately after birth or a young child trying an adult bike, when beginning students go directly to Algebra 1, they are skipping a crucial step in their development. Because they missed it, many talented, hardworking, gifted students are falling through the cracks.
Let’s start at the beginning, by training their brains to understand how algebra works. Start with Algebra Zero and you will easily succeed in Algebra 1.