Algebra for All

Mathematics is one subject area that is considered a high priority by many in our school community, in New York City, and in educational conversations around the country.  Math instruction today is very different from what most of us adults experienced as students. There is a greater emphasis on mathematical reasoning and conceptual understanding. This means that even our youngest students are learning to manipulate numbers in what may be considered “non traditional” ways.  The habits of mind about mathematics and the numeracy skills being developed in our early grades are laying the foundation for more advance math in upper grades.

Dawn Schafer, our math coach, our math teachers, members of the School Leadership Team, and I have been working to refine our mathematics program in the upper grades to help our students have a richer, more challenging mathematics experience at 276. As a result of this study we have determined that all of our 8th graders will be taking Algebra 1 as a Regents class in 8th grade starting in the 2017-2018 school year.

Offering Algebra 1 to all of our 8th graders will provide our students with an appropriately challenging mathematics curriculum that allows our graduates to earn high school credit in middle school and is aligned with the Department of Education’s Algebra for All initiative.   This will enable our students to take more advanced math courses in high school and better prepare them for college and careers.  

In grades K-4, our classroom teachers are providing students a balance of context based problems, math games that reinforce skills and numeracy, and instruction that emphasizes reasoning and communicating. In recording their mathematical thinking,as early as second grade students begin to learn to write the answer as a letter that precedes the equation and to use parentheses to indicate which parts of an equation are solved first.  For example, in solving 24 + 16, students might decompose the numbers to be n = (20 + 4) + (10 + 6).  They learn  the distributive property and so might rewrite the problem to be n = 20 + 10 + (6+4).  These foundational skills and habits of algebraic reasoning are woven into the curriculum from very early grades. 

Starting in fifth grade, our math program is departmentalized. Students go to math class and are taught math by math specialists.  The curriculum continues to provide students with a balance of context based problems and instruction that emphasizes reasoning and communicating.  Again, algebraic reasoning is addressed throughout the curriculum. 

In all our grades, mathematics instruction is differentiated. In lower grades, teachers partner students deliberately and provide pairs with math games that reinforce the skills that students need. In upper grades, differentiation is accomplished through tiered problems.  This means that problems presented to the class have varied levels of sophistication.  Students start at appropriate levels for their learning and receive support through small group instruction, scaffolds and extensions.

All of this work is supported by Dawn and Ariel and through on site and off site professional learning workshops that are led by internationally recognized mathematics educators with Math in the City (CUNY), Metamorphosis, and Generation Ready.  Recently, we had a visitor from Generation Ready who analyzed our math instruction K-8.  He noted strengths of our program include: 

  • Teachers collect a variety of forms of data and use it to inform planning and instruction
  • Willingness of teachers to embrace math and improving their practice
  • Willingness of teachers to embrace that they are math learners alongside their students
  • Use of mathematical practices (CCLS)
    • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
    • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
    • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
    • Model with mathematics
    • Use appropriate tools strategically.
    • Attend to precision.
    • Look for and make use of structure.
    • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

All of this means that our students and teachers are in a good place to transition to Algebra 1 for all students in grade 8.  Currently, our Middle School math curriculum provides students with rich tasks which allow for discussion and reasoning and we are introducing some algebra concepts one year early. For example, Grade 6 is learning about unit rate and how it relates to graphs and equations.  Grade 7 is learning about how linear and proportional relationships are similar and different, and how the slope intercept form relates to tables and graphs.

Starting next year, we will be compacting 7th and 8th grade math and Algebra 1 into 2 years. Math in these grades will be taught through two different courses:  

  1. Math Exploration
  2. 7th and 8th grade math

Our math team is in the process of rewriting the units of study that make up middle school math for next year.  Additionally, Rachel Lewis is preparing  a technology class that uses coding to support Algebra 1 for students in 8th grade.

While I am confident that we have  a strong plan in place, we also want to assure that our students are ready for this shift.  Therefore, 7th grade units at the end of the year will include tasks and skills related to concepts needed for Algebra 1.