Algebra with a capital A!

I teach at a self-contained special education high school in SoHo in NYC.  Our math department does a good job of incorporating “algebraic thinking” into every problem we pose or task we assign.  Though, as they are in high school, our students are aware of what they “should be learning.”  In other words, they see what their peers without disabilities are doing in math class and generally it is not what they are doing.

So the desire to learn Algebra comes up quite frequently.  (The capital A is intentional in this case!)  Algebra is like our student’s white whale.  So, I try to be the boat to their Ahab.

My frustration, however, is that the typical approach to Algebra, with a capital A, is heavily language based. Vocabulary such as variable, dependent, independent, inverse, and substitute are very basic to capital A-lgebra, but they are also complex terms (and ones which have alternate meanings in everyday speech) that our students would require most of the year just committing to memory.

So I have been on a search for capital A-lgebra work that bypasses this vocabulary at least at the very beginning.  Cut to Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns and Heinemann’s Transition to Algebra.

I began with a pre-assessment task about toothpicks

Continue reading