Thursday, January 28, 2010

A message from Herb: Arithmetic as a Gateway to Algebra

It is not uncommon for a first or second grade teacher to say such things as “Why do I have to go to a workshop on fractions? I just teach whole number arithmetic”. Hopefully our workshop on January 25th demonstrated that by using the adjective/noun theme and having a thorough understanding of whole number arithmetic, the study of fractions became much simpler.

More generally, the more you know about what lies ahead for the students, the better you can motivate your course material in ways that are more relevant to them. With this in mind, you might like to view Lesson 1 of the algebra course that is posted on our website. I believe it will show you why understanding arithmetic is a very important prerequisite for any students who is enrolled in an algebra class.

For example, even though one does not (consciously) teach algebra in the first grade, the concept is already present when we ask students such fill-in-the-blank questions as

5 + ____ = 8.

In essence it is a much less threatening form of the equivalent problem:

For what value of x does 5 + x = 8?

Lesson 1 of our algebra course explores this idea in much greater detail. I know you all are very busy and do not need to have more put on your plate. However I believe that if you look at Lesson 1 you will see the very close connection between arithmetic and algebra. And if you already teach algebra, you might enjoy seeing what might be a point of view that is new to you.

If you do find the time to look at this lesson, our Team will be pleased to read your reactions to it.

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