Empowering students through hands-on algebra

Plus Endowment grant recipients
By DONNA NEWCOMB
Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 12:48 PM
Paris Post-Intelligencer, Paris, TN

Fifth-graders across the state are learning how to solve linear equations and perform algebraic functions. This is why Paris Elementary School teacher Becky Cate applied for a Plus Endowment grant.

“Because learning algebra is such an abstract concept for students, we wanted to incorporate kinesthetic methods to better help them grasp the concept,” she said. “What better way to teach students algebra than to use a hands-on approach?”

Her grant has allowed her to purchase Hands-On Equations, a program with a game-like approach. Through the program the teacher first models problems step by step. The students then physically set up the equation using the game pieces and a flat laminated balance and then proceed to carry out ‘legal moves’ to solve the equation, Cate explained.

—Photo provided by Becky Cate

Students in Becky Cate’s fifth-grade class at Paris Elementary School play a game called Hands-On Equations purchased through a Plus Endowment grant this year. The students physically solve the algebraic equations playing the game, and then transfer their learning to pencil and paper problems.

“The legal moves are the physical counterpart of the abstract mathematical principles which are used to solve these equations … it fascinates students and motivates them while learning algebra,” Cate said.

She explained that after students “see” how the equations are solved, and the algebraic equations are learned, students will be able to transfer their learning to pencil and paper problems.

Students learn to solve simple equations and progress to more equations involving positive and negative integers.

“The purpose of incorporating Hands-On Equations in our classrooms is to empower students to work with difficult algebraic concepts they would otherwise renounce as impossible,” she said.

It is Cate’s hope that students will develop a strong foundation in algebra and achieve success at higher levels.

“As educators we strive to seek innovative ways to reach out to students who learn in different ways. This hands-on approach could possibly trigger a ‘light bulb moment’ we teachers celebrate,” she concluded.

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