Fairfax Readies More 8th Graders for Algebra

Fairfax has taken a slower approach to middle school Algebra than most places. The only option now is an honors course that about half of eighth graders (and some 7th grades) take. Average math students are stuck with pre-Algebra.

But the school system is looking to bolster its numbers of 8th graders in Algebra with a non-Honors course next fall. They started this year with a pilot program at a couple of middle schools.

Two teachers from Hughes Middle School told the school board at its last meeting that the early venture has been a huge success so far. It's too early to know if every one will pass, but anyone who doesn't can always retake the course in ninth grade.

"My students were flattered to be placed in Algebra," one teachers said, but the intimidation and the power of the name "ALGEBRA" made them pay more attention and work harder.

"Raise the bar; It works," she said.

A common complaint about early Algebra is that students who are weak in basic math skills will not be ready. But she said that the Algebra course reviews a lot of basic math and can help students learn the skills by applying them in a more sophisticated way.

**On a side note, some school board members quipped that they could not remember what Algebra was and one vowed she would "solve a quadratic equation before I die." The youngest member of the board, student representative Arvin Ahmadi from Thomas Jefferson High school for Science and Technology regaled the board with the quadratic formula set to music.

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  April 3, 2009; 4:29 PM ET
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I believe it is very short sighted to make comments about algebra and changing things merely in the 7th or 8th grade. To improve the numbers of those taking algebra you must adjust the curriculums throughout elementary and middle school grades. This does not necessarily mean we need to introduce algebra with more intensity earlier. Much of what makes kids stumble in algebra and fractions is not knowing multiplication facts as a reflex. This frees the kids to examine the concepts in algebra while not stumbling over the basic math.

Posted by: benathornton1 | April 14, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I completely agree with benathornton1. In 14 years of teaching algebra to middle schoolers (and now 9th graders), those that struggle simply cannot add, subtract, multiply or divide real numbers efficiently. For example, if you're trying to solve the equation 3x +7 = 15, and you have to count on your fingers 15 - 7, along with recalling you must add - 7 to both sides of the equal sign, it becomes increasingly more difficult to comprehend more complex skills when you're struggling with basic computation. You're simply not going to learn Algebra 1 through the quadratic equation in one school year.
As a student I did not take Algebra in 8th grade, yet was still solving Differential Equations (yikes!) by the time I was a Senior in HS. Why? Because as an incoming Freshman taking Algebra 1 for the 1st time I could add, subtract, multiply and divide real numbers efficiently, so mastering Algebra was easier.

Posted by: pdfordiii | April 16, 2009 7:35 AM | Report abuse

If the algebra course 'reviews a lot of basic math', then that is the time to catch those problems! Learning all the multiplication tables may seem intense to a kid who's behind in that area but it has to be done. Like the saying goes, 'You can pay me now or you can pay me later...' If you have to know the multiplication tables, there is no other option but to learn them by heart. Do you really want to graduate kids who go to the bank and still count on their fingers when they figure out the balance in their checkbook? Just do it and go on to the 'good stuff' (algebra). And don't make the kid take a year to catch up.
Other countries (Russia and Japan are two examples) teach algebra much earlier. It is integrated early in math education. One Russian emigre told me that he was doing some of the same problems college students are doing when he was in 8th grade. It wasn't that the problems were easy.. it's that they weren't out of reach and although challenging, they could be worked with knowledge the students had acquired over the years. Not 'honors' math, either.
Google 'Russian math' and see what I mean.

Posted by: KathyWi | April 17, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

though the 1st two posters might be right and make legitimate comments, i think the problem is they are speaking to the one size fits all approach. My child took algebra in the 7th grade and geometry in the 8th. She and her peers in the class were prepared for the course versus going through reiterations of pre-algebra. Her younger sibling see the similarity of Algebra and the math she is doing. I will agree Algebra is not the time for review, but to not offer the course because kids can't add, multiply, etc. speaks to a portion of the kids. Let's stop thinking a 10-11-12-year old can't do certain things. there evidence that one that have exhibited certain skill can.

I teach adult education classes, and the biggest thing I find is people from young high school dropouts to 60-year olds don't know how to translate fractions, decimals, percentages, and other basic math to the real world. simple example is one slice of pizza is 1/8th (if the pizza is cut into 8 slices). Add 1/4 plus 1/8 and they end up with 3/8th. pizza is an easy example, but it get them to think and relate other fractions to real concepts.

Posted by: oknow1 | April 17, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

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