Beginning Algebra: Dear Aunt Sally! (#273)


A Year in the Life: Ambient Math Wins the Race to the Top!
Day 273

For one year, 365 days, this blog will address the Common Core Standards from the perspective of creating an alternate, ambient learning environment for math. Ambient is defined as “existing or present on all sides, an all-encompassing atmosphere.”

And ambient music is defined as: “Quiet and relaxing with melodies that repeat many times.” Why ambient? A math teaching style that’s whole and all encompassing, with themes that repeat many times through the years, is most likely to be effective and successful.

Math By Hand introduces beginning algebra at the end of Grade 4 with anecdotal, biographical, and historical stories.  As always, the story carries the content and new concepts!  Here’s an excerpt from Math By Hand’s supplemental booklet, Order of Operations.  

Algebra: the word is taken from the Arabic “Al Jabr” which means “bone setting.” Al Khwarizmi of Baghdad, a mathematician, wrote a book about algebra in the year 830 CE. Its title translates as The Science of Restoring What Is Missing, and Equating Like with Like. Think of “x” as the missing piece, and the relationship of what’s on both sides of the equals sign as the equating of like with like. Algebra, like fractions and the concept of zero, was introduced to Europe from the Middle East.

Here is an example of how the order of operations (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally: Parenthesis Exponents Multiplication Division Addition Subtraction) is entered into students’ main lesson books, then continually used during skills practice.  The problem could be written on the board including all of the five steps, color coding each step with different color.  The properties of operations: commutativity, associativity, and distributivity should also be included in this lesson.

aunt sally
The gist of both the Waldorf and Math By Hand approaches is that the “Race to the Top” needs to be won by the tortoise rather than the hare.  Slow and steady wins because from Kindergarten on, sensible and incremental steps are taken, always following the lead of developmental stages and the growing needs of the child.  “To everything there is a season” and algebra’s season can wait until there’s a real readiness for it.

Knowledge ensues in an environment dedicated to imaginative, creative knowing, where student and teacher alike surrender to the ensuing of knowledge as a worthy goal. Tune in tomorrow as we return to the Common Core math standards for measurement and data.

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