I spent one morning last week brushing up on my order of operations and other elemental algebraic concepts at Oakland Technical High School. Riveting stuff, and they do it for hours each day. The teachers break it up with various activities and challenges, though, and I never knew a math classroom could look so inviting.
Here’s one small aha! moment I overheard between a teacher named Mr. McCann and a boy who was momentarily stumped about adding positive and negative numbers:
McCann: “Think about it as a football game. You lost seven yards on the first play and then you gained four on the second play.”
Student: (pause) “Negative three?”
There are 11 8 of these summer algebra academies serving children from 11 Oakland high schools and middle schools. The kids at Oakland Tech had already taken Algebra I in eighth grade, but they will retake it next year. Other academies are designed to prep incoming eighth graders who will take it for the first time in the fall.
This is all part of a big push in Oakland Unified to help kids pass Algebra I earlier — and to do away with “tracking” by having almost all kids take Algebra I (as opposed to a slowed down version) by the eighth grade, a move our governor would definitely support. Algebra’s a big stumbling block for kids, and many wind up taking it over and over and over again.
According to Chief Academic Officer Brad Stam, about 60 percent of Oakland eighth-graders took the class last year. (In 2007-08, the most recent year data’s available, about 44 percent of the district’s eighth-grade Algebra I students scored “basic” or above on the STAR test.)
This fall, about 85 or 90 percent of Oakland’s eighth-graders will take Algebra I. Stam says some math teachers have begun teaching algebraic concepts as early kindergarten, and that more will be trained to do it.
Do you agree with this de-tracking approach? I’m writing a story about this in the near future, so if you have an opinion or know someone else who might, please call me at (510) 208-6424 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.