Review, More Review, Some Algebra II

We started a unit today on factoring in my Algebra II class, and we spent the morning learning to add, subtract and multiply polynomials.

"Who remembers from Algebra I, what you can do when you have a binomial times a binomial?" the teacher Tricia Colclaser asked. (If you need a refresher, think (x+1)(x-1).)

Some of the students were stumped. And FOIL -- one of the all-time famous algebra acronyms which tells you the order of how to solve it (First Outside Inside Last) -- was not ringing too many bells.

A lot of the work we have done in Algebra II this year is review of concepts that were introduced two years ago in Algebra I. (For me, it's all review... but that's different.)

Colclaser is part of a "vertical math team" this year. It's a committee of different grade level math teachers that meets to discuss how they can better organize the curriculum. How, to use a famous example, can we teach fractions in elementary school, so students are not still flummoxed by them in middle school and high school?

The math Standards of Learning, or the state-level teaching standards, are being revised, and committees like this are trying to rethink what they teach. One driving question that Colclaser has is why so many Algebra I concepts end up in Algebra II.

"Maybe we don't need to teach so much, Maybe we should just ask students to become experts in graphing lines and solving linear equations," she said. "I'm still saying to students, 'What's the slope??' and 'How do you find it?'"

She teaches factoring "like it's brand new," she said.

If you want to review the standards yourself, click here. There are 18 main concepts teachers are supposed to go through in Algebra I and about 20 in Algebra II. That's a lot of material to get through in a year...

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  November 13, 2008; 10:14 AM ET  | Category:  Class Time
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Michael, your post and the "standards" document summarize most of the problems with American math education today.

The post proves that the so-called "standards" are not standards in any real sense, but merely a list of optional things that students may or may not choose to learn. The weak students quickly find out that if they don't know the Algebra I material when they get to Algebra II, somebody from the district will come along and teach it "like it's brand new," at the expense of the good students.

Now take a look at the attachment. Count the number of times the word "calculator" is used. The kids are not being taught to do simple math; they are being taught to run machines that do simple math. Would you expect somebody who relied on books on tape and DVDs to become a great reader?

Finally, recall your post about the "University" of D.C. Students who can't handle Algebra I material even after taking Algebra II know that it doesn't really matter; they can always find an American "university" to teach them middle school math. In short, many of the kids have figured out that the adults running public schools are not serious about the standards, and they therefore treat the adults and their "standards" with the respect they deserve.

Posted by: BradJolly | November 15, 2008 8:37 AM | Report abuse

The lack of real standards is the problem here. I agree with BradJolly. I'm taking a math class in college and as usual, the professor has to ask, 'How many of you remember ....?' And of course, he 'teaches' it again.
In this case, the class is currently learning recurrent relations (don't even ask!) and the professor asked, 'How many of you remember how to complete the square?'
My teenaged son had just asked me how to complete the square and when I explained it to him (with great pleasure, because I knew how-), his reply was, 'That's way too much work!' It's something not done with a calculator.
The usefulness of completing the square when learning recurrent relations proves it may be too much work but that work pays off.
When the professor whipped through a quick explanation of how to complete the square, I thought that if I didn't know how to do it already, now would not be the time to set about learning it in the space of two minutes. Yet, you can take nothing for granted, apparently, when teaching math. You can't seem to count on it ever having been taught adequately.
You need standards. And you need to have teachers bound to teach by those standards - no deviations, no short-cuts, no excuses.

Posted by: KathyWi | November 15, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

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