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ERIC Number: EJ1044122
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Nov
Pages: 6
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-0025-5769
Problems before Procedures: Systems of Equations
Allen, Kasi C.
Mathematics Teacher, v107 n4 p286-291 Nov 2013
Today, beginning algebra in the high school setting is associated more with remediation than pride. Students enroll by mandate and attend under duress. Class rosters in this "graveyard" course, as it is often referred to, include sophomores and juniors who are attempting the course for the second or third time. Even the ninth graders have seen many of the ideas in an earlier context because of the increasing prevalence of seventh and eighth-grade mathematics courses designed to frontload first-year algebra topics. As a result, the content can feel like review, even when it is not. Such circumstances present unique challenges for teachers and students alike. The experience of the author as a mathematics educator leads her to a single principle that can consistently lead to successful teaching and learning in an early algebra class: Pose problems before presenting procedures. This is not a new idea. However, it is one that many teachers either forget or opt not to implement under the pressures of time and topic coverage. Especially when accompanied by instructional practices that prioritize student communication and collaboration, this subtle shift in practice can prove particularly valuable in the beginning algebra setting. Compelling problems provide a powerful tool for assessing prior knowledge, encourage students to generate mathematical ideas, and pave the path to symbolic representations. Using problems to drive mathematics instruction also levels the playing field by valuing powerful thinking over memorization, thus fostering a community of learners in which everyone has something to contribute. This article uses systems of linear equations to illustrate how this strategy might unfold in a classroom.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 1906 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-1502. Tel: 800-235-7566; Tel: 703-620-3702; Fax: 703-476-2970; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: High Schools; Secondary Education
Audience: Teachers
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A