>According to Joan Reinthaler: >> >> Mathematics is an enormously broad field within which algebra (and >> calculus) is just one patch. Getting to algebra earlier just means that >> students don't get a chance to become familiar with other math topics. >> Why is it >> that we seem to assume that algebra is the only way to go and the sooner >> the better? >> > > >I think we all agree with Joan. In fact the organization of >Independent School Mathematics teachers in the Washington, D.C, >area (an organization to which both Joan and I belong) has come >out with a statement just to Joan's point. > >But....... the problem is bigger. As long as college >admissions people look for the AP courses, then students and >parents will >think it is necessary that they take AP courses in high school. > >How did I ever get by taking calculus in college? > >-- > >Cheers! > >Karen Dee
I have been lurking and trying to mesh all the comments with my experience. First I need to say hurrah to Karen Dee and Joan. Their comments are right on as regards this preoccupation with algebra. But there is certainly no reason why certain ingredients of what seems to be viewed as the exclusive domain of algebra cannot be introduced in lower grades. Part of the reason why algebra appears to be so foreign to some folks is because of the vocabulary.
Perhaps a short story would make my point. This year I was approached by a 7th grader's parents who wanted their child challenged (I have some problems with this word as used in certain contexts, but that is another story). They wanted him placed in algebra. Well, I took a look at the 6th grade and 7th grade math book and said no and that in my opinion he would miss an exposure to fractions, percentages, a little geometry, etc. I do assume these things are known to some extent before the kids get to algebra (e.g. this year my algebra students managed to skip areas of circles,etc. in 7th grade and I asked their teacher to please remedy this). Well, they wanted him to skip 7th grade math so I went to talk to the 8th grade teacher (who does pre-algebra - a nice intro to algebra). We looked at the books again and decided that it would not be fair to the student to have him skip 7th grade math. A bit against my better judgement we decided to comprimise and let the student 'test out' of 7th grade math, if he could, and take the pre-algebra with the understanding if he was struggling we would end the whole business. Well, he is doing just fine in pre-algebra and he hasn't yet tested out of 7th grade math (not because he isn't bright, but because they are covering material he did not have in 6th grade or 8th grade pre-algebra). My point is that 6th, 7th, 8th are not just rehashes (at least the way we teach the material).
Finally, I have noticed over the years that students that do best in algebra are those that are often the most mature as regards study habits. Also, I have often observed that a student that does poorly in my algebra class in 8th grade often seems 'to get it together' and excel that first year in high school ( Oh, I should say that students that do 'poorly' in my algebra class, retake the course in high school).I know there are number of factors involved here, but such students have told me several times that all the info just 'clicked'. Thus if there is some truth to this, this 7th and 8th grade algebra idea is possibly ill conceived for some students (even some brighter ones).