## Wednesday, December 19, 2012

### Breaking the Algebra Barrier

It’s no news that students that are successful learning arithmetic often stumble and even fall, without ever getting up, when faced with learning algebra.
As a math and science educator, I can report that little attention is given to laying the conceptual groundwork students need to make the transition from arithmetic to algebra.

When classroom computers became available in the early 1980s (my first computer was an 8K Commodore PET with tape cassette drive), I believed that finally, we had a tool that would make learning algebra not only relevant but also easy! That belief was—and still is— based on the fact that programming requires algebraic thinking.

Perhaps the most fundamental concept in algebra and programming is the concept of a variable. In the typical algebra text, the variable concept is briefly mentioned and then quickly followed by the never-ending song and dance between the x’s and the y’s. The variable x becomes synonymous with unknown and for many students, the x and algebra itself remains an unknown.

Dr. Zalman Usiskin, in his article, Conceptions of School Algebra and Uses of Variables discusses and gives examples of the five different ways the variable concept is used in algebra. [Click here http://oak.ucc.nau.edu/smg224/401pdfs/algebrareadings/usiskin1.pdf