(Editor's note: This guest blog post was written by Buhl High School, Idaho math and science teacher Pat Van Patten. When asked why she stays in the classroom after 30 years, Pat replied, “I still love teaching. I love watching students learn; when the light turns on for them and they begin to realize what they can do when they put their mind to it. And, I vowed to never stop learning either, which is why I love to try new ways of doing things.”)
When it comes to math, our school is not unlike so many others. Too many students fail and, consequently, retake Algebra 1. Those retaking the course struggle through it, passing at a rate not indicative of mastery. Without a strong foundation in algebra, they are in for a challenging journey through the necessary math for future careers.
In talking about this challenge with a local college rep, I learned that the story doesn’t stop with high school. He told me that college algebra was the most failed class at his institution. He also said that he knew of many students who, when they found out that they were going to have to take and pass college algebra for their degree, switched majors for fear of failure.
To address this issue, my school’s administration decided to bring back a two-year Algebra 1 course for those students who previously failed or whose ISAT scores indicated potential difficulty. Our goal was to keep the first-year class to 15 students. As a firm believer in giving students time to address gaps in their learning with extra assistance during class, I was excited to try this alternate approach.
However, there was another challenge; disciplinary issues were characteristic of many of the eligible students. When other teachers walked by my class and noticed these students, they offered me condolences and wished me luck!
We chose to use the Algebra 1 course available at no cost from Curriculum Pathways® for our curriculum as the content aligns with our state standards. Students explore the video and text that addresses concepts, and as they complete the units, they learn to solve equations and inequalities, identify sequences, graph functions, display and analyze data, simplify radical and polynomial expressions, and factor polynomial expressions. Using this online resource in our blended learning class, I facilitate the students' progress, coaching them through problems while also reviewing and grading their work.
Typically, we cover the Learn tab together with the use of our projector and smart board. Students come to the board to work problems or use their one-to-one devices to interact directly with the program. After we finish with Learn, students do the Practice problems on their own, with individualized help as required.
I love that the course provides students with immediate feedback as they work through the practice problems, rather than completing an entire assignment before discovering that they had significant errors. And, I have very few disciplinary issues. Students who failed last year are doing much better and progressing at a rate that suggests they are well on their way to mastery!
I have let my colleagues know that this Extended Algebra 1 course is now one of my favorite classes, and students have a positive response, too.
What students are saying...
“This class moves really slow to the point that I understand it really well, in my past experience in algebra, I wasn’t doing really well and was cheating myself … Math for me went from boring to I’m loving it. I really like working on [Curriculum Pathways] with my teacher and with the rest of the class because it helps."
“Honestly I think this class has definitely changed my view point on math, and math class itself. My traditional math class last year was a struggle. By the time I got close to understanding these problems, we were already on a new unit. Thankfully, this year they came up with Extended Algebra, because math is not as complicated as it was a year ago. The pace is just right and we go more in depth as to learning the concepts. Curriculum Pathways is a big part of helping us too. The people who now claim to hate it are the ones who don’t focus and learn. I now know that, because I used to be one of them.”
“This class was a smart idea… the regular class was moving too fast and as soon as I was learning something the class would already be on a different section. I thought Curriculum Pathways was very difficult but only because I didn’t learn how to use it. Extended Algebra helped me take my time and helped me learn Curriculum Pathways.”
“This class has benefited me so much from the original class. I now actually understand not just algebra but also how to use Curriculum Pathways so much more easily. Having a longer class, I don’t feel rushed, feel more relaxed and focused because I’m not having to rush through my homework and not remember what I’ve learned.”
“Extended Algebra has been a more enjoyable class for me rather than a normal algebra class because it helps spend more time on topics we haven’t fully understood…In a regular algebra class I would have already gave up on trying to learn anything else due to the fact that most topics are just extensions to what you just learned and I usually didn’t understand everything 100% to the point where it got that I just gave up on trying [to]keep up.”
“I used to hate, and I mean completely hate, math. Since this class, I’ve actually grown to like it more and more. Curriculum Pathways used to be very complicated before this class. I think since this class started I am actually understanding math a lot more, mostly because of Curriculum Pathways. It’s amazing how Curriculum Pathways and the teacher teaches us. It is amazing."
"How I feel about Algebra, well it’s an amazing class. I like that it’s a two-year class, because it takes me a while to understand it. If I were in a regular Algebra 1 class, I would be really behind and wouldn’t be getting anything done. Also, our Extended Algebra teacher is honestly the best. She made me change the way I feel about math, I enjoy being in her class. She makes whatever subject we are learning about understandable. Sometimes the class is boring it’s just the choice I’m making. Overall this is my favorite class and I want to keep on learning how to do more advanced math."
"…Throughout middle school and freshman year I had difficulties with math. I never understood it. Plus, they would give you work, on work, on work. You really had no time to finish. But Extended Algebra slowed it down."