Wednesday, May 30, 2012

With A 'Lil Bit O' Algebra

So, I've recently been asked to rewrite our districts Algebra 1 curriculum (and eventually Algebra 2 I believe) to fit with the Common Core State Standards, again (woot!). Teaching something because the standards tell me to bothers me as opposed to teaching something because its relevant, but that's a rant for another time.
A colleague of mine and I were looking over the CCSS for alg. 1 and realized its kind of a hodge-podge of topics thrown together. I mean, all of the linear equation/function stuff works together very well, but then there is some beginning stats/probability and also rational expressions, polynomials, exponents, etc. thrown in as well. We were trying to find a way to organize this course so that it makes sense and there are logical transitions. As of now, the topics are taught in the order in which they appear in our textbook (UCSMP), which is no good (both the organization and the book). We stared for a while and threw out some ideas, and then I realized something. Every alg 1 curriculum that I've ever seen has always ended with stats topics, and they are part of the 'if there is time' category. I wanted to give this course some flow and a context, so I thought 'Why not teach it from a statistics perspective?" After looking over the standards again, we figured out that this just might work. Here's the tentative plan:
      We'll start off with calculating different types of probability. This covers the different types of numbers, how to order them, represent them, compare them, etc. We will then move on to different ways to represent data, bar graphs, pie charts, stem and leaf, box and whisker, etc., further emphasizing the importance of number sense. This leads nicely into scatterplots and line of best fit, which opens a door to teach all of the linear equation/function topics that are essential to an algebra 1 course. This is obviously a very loose description since I don't have all the info in front me, but I think it will work. Every topic will have a context and we'll be able to teach everything in a real setting. My hope is that this allows students to see how these can be used and provide an easy method to be taught. I'm very excited for this to happen and can't wait for the results. It makes me wonder why I've never heard of anything like this before.
      The only hicup - the rational expressions, polynomials, GCF, LCM, exponents topics that are to be included. How do we incorporate them into a stats context that flows well with everything else in the course? As we talked, the best we could come up with is 'throw them in at the end.' No context, no transition, no meaning in regards to the rest of the course. This upsets me, but, I've got nothin'. Any ideas?
I feel that this is a new and exciting way to teach algebra 1 that could produce some amazing results. I'm a little nervous about showing this to those who are teaching alg. 1 next year because its so different than the way it used to be, and also because I'm not teaching it (so that will produce some interesting discussions as well).

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