Young people who succeed in algebra are better prepared to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, but University of Arizona research shows students must begin mastering math fundamentals that lead up to algebra as early as the fourth grade.
To improve math skills of students across Arizona, UA researchers are designing online workshops for teachers of fourth, fifth and sixth graders aimed at improving the teachers' understanding, skill and knowledge about pre-algebra instruction.
The nearly four-year project – Algebra Ready: Transitioning to Academic Success – is primarily supported by a $560,000 award from Helios Education Foundation, a partnership that will broaden the project's reach and scope.
"Considerable evidence verifies that algebra is a major gate-keeping course for academic achievement and success in STEM careers," said Thomas Good, department head and professor of educational psychology in the College of Education. "There is a growing national consensus that students' inability to master algebra can be traced to their inadequate understanding of rational numbers-fractions, decimals and percents-and other important early algebra concepts."
Good is a co-leader of Algebra Ready, along with teaching, learning and sociocultural studies assistant professors Marcy Wood and Courtney Koestler. They are assisted by Darrell Sabers, professor emeritus of educational psychology, and Wayne Brent, senior consultant for the UA Office of Instruction and Assessment.
The project builds on the positive outcomes of a previous Helios-supported initiative through the UA's College of Education – Improving Fifth Grade Students' Understanding of Rational Numbers.
"In order to improve student achievement for all Arizona students, we must improve algebra readiness, which is the basic foundation for success in math and science," said Jo Anne Vasquez, vice president and program director of Arizona Transition Years, Teacher and Curriculum Initiatives for Helios Education Foundation.
"The Algebra Ready partnership is a critical component in improving teachers' competency in rational numbers, which better prepares students for algebra completion, and college and career readiness."
The initial project, which used live workshops, demonstrated success in student math achievement. Now, the group aims to transfer the workshop content to an online platform to increase access and collaboration statewide, and especially among those teachers serving under-resourced rural areas.
"This is a particularly important project in light of the new Common Core Standards in mathematics that Arizona will be implementing soon," said Ron Marx, dean of the College of Education. "The use of innovative online delivery will enable the research team to support teachers across the state as they learn to teach mathematics more effectively."
Helios Education Foundation is focused on creating a college-going culture in Arizona and Florida by investing in initiatives that create opportunities for postsecondary education success. The foundation focuses its investments across the education continuum in three key impact areas: early childhood education, the transition years (grades 5-12) and postsecondary scholarships.
Since 2006, Helios has invested more than $100 million in education-related programs and initiatives in Arizona and Florida.
The University of Arizona Foundation is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to advancing the UA. Managing an existing asset base of more than $650 million, the UA Foundation has helped generate more than $2 billion in private funding to support the University.