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The Algebra Project Comes to TC

The Algebra Project, founded by Civil Rights-era leader and educator Bob Moses to improve math literacy among low-income children of color, is holding a series of coaching sessions at Teachers College this summer for third-, sixth- and ninth-grade teachers from Harlem schools.

A Civil Rights approach to math education

The Algebra Project, founded by Civil Rights-era leader and educator Bob Moses to improve math literacy among low-income children of color, is holding a series of coaching sessions at Teachers College this summer for third-, sixth- and ninth-grade teachers from Harlem schools.

"Bob Moses is one of America's foremost educational innovators, an iconic leader who combines his unique understanding of teaching and learning with a passion to bring the benefits of education to the least advantaged children in our society," said Darlyne Bailey, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean, Teachers College. "We are delighted that the children of Harlem will benefit from the same proven methodologies he has brought to bear in the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere, and we are proud to partner with him in this effort, which exemplifies our commitment to professional development for teachers in under-served schools."

The goal of the Project's sessions at the College is to "introduce algebra to students who aren't usually exposed to it -- and to do so at an earlier age than is customary," said Dawn Arno, Director, TC Education Zone Partnership, the College's network of outreach program with New York City schools. "This is a big entre to improve math literacy in our neighborhoods, and to improve teachers' ability to teach." 

The workshops -- arranged by the city school system's Region 10 and Community School District 5 in conjunction with Teachers College -- are being held on June 15th, 16th, 17th, 22nd, 23rd and 24th; July 5th, 6th, 7th and 31st; and August 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. All sessions will be held at Teachers College from 9 to 12 noon. Schools whose teachers will participate include PS 154, PS 197 and PS 200; IS 172 (Adam Clayton Powell); IS 195 (Roberto Clemente) and IS 286 (Renaissance Leadership Military Academy); Choir Academy; Frederick Douglass Academy; and Bread and Roses. The sessions also will be attended math coaches from these schools, regional instructional specialists for math; and New York City's math intervention specialist, Elizabeth Ballard.

David Henderson a mathematician at Cornell University who is the author of Experiences in Geometry, a widely used university-level text, is working with the sixth and ninth grade teachers. "Until recently, most people only took one geometry course in their lives, and that was in high school," he says. "Yet geometry comes out of things that human beings in all cultures have done for as far back as we have records -- building structures, navigation and star-gazing, art and pattern, machines and motion, and measurement. And it's a field where there's still active inquiry going on -- in computer graphics, in the study of cancer cells, in statistics, in economics."

Dr. Moses himself is working with the third grade teachers. "We try to forge a curricular process that brings together experiential learning, a concept that's been around for the past century, with the idea -- introduced by Willard Van Ormand Kwine -- that there is a conceptual language that undergirds the symbolic representations of math," he says. That combination is essential for answering "the central question of what kind of evidence you offer students for mathematical truths."

The Project's methodology for teaching third graders concepts of measurement -- and more specifically, how to represent amounts left over when a unit of measurement doesn't exactly describe a given quantity -- exemplifies these methods.

"I went to Home Depot last night and spent time with one of their people getting exact cuts of pieces of wood -- full pieces, halves, thirds and quarters -- and we'll use that to introduce the simplest common fractions," said Dr. Moses on the eve of the first session. "The kids can use to that to measure their own heights and that of their friends. We can also paint the different lengths different colors. And that allows us to use coding that's similar to algebraic representations -- -'r' for red, -'b' for blue, and so on. The key is to get away from pencils and papers and reading a book, and also, in this age of desktop publishing, for students and teachers to create their own tools and materials, so they're not just consumers of what others produce."

The workshops are designed not only to improve teachers' communication with students, but also teachers' own understanding of math.

"Under the industrial era model of schooling, we had Post Office-level requirements for math, with a just a few people responding to Sputnik-level challenges," Dr. Moses says. "Under that system it was OK to teach elementary school without really knowing math. But we're in an information era now, so we've got to go back to ground zero in terms of teachers' understanding of the subject."

Dr. Moses, who was born in Harlem in 1935, is a Harvard trained educator who joined the civil right movement in 1960, serving as field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He became co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization for all the major civil rights groups then working in Mississippi. As described at length in Taylor Branch's massive three-volume chronicle of Martin Luther King, he endured imprisonment and mob violence while helping the Congress of Racial Equality organize the Freedom Riders, who challenged the authority of Jim Crow racial control in the South.

Dr. Moses subsequently worked as a teacher in Tanzania, returned to Harvard to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy and taught high school math in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1982, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and used the money to create the Algebra Project, which has since benefited thousands of students in states across the country. He currently teaches math at Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi, which he uses as a laboratory school for Algebra Project methods.

The Project's central premise is that a grassroots effort similar to that which helped secure voting rights for African Americans is necessary to ensure a quality education for all students. The Project develops and implements curricular interventions that build on experiences that students find interesting -- and understand intuitively -- to help them sift from arithmetic to algebraic thinking. These include a "transition curriculum" for use in sixth and seventh grade classrooms; a high school algebra and geometry curriculum, currently in development, that is tailored to each student's command of language;  and several programs that involve not only students, but also teachers, parents and community members, as well as noted mathematicians, academics and policymakers.

The Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project (SIAP) has worked across seven southern states to provide teacher training and professional development, as well as community organizing for math literacy.

Dr. Moses is the author of Radical Equations: Civil Rights, from Mississippi to the Algebra Project. He has received the War Resisters League Peace Award, the James Bryant Conant Award from the Education Commission of the States, and the Heinz Award in the Human Condition.

Published Friday, Jun. 16, 2006

The Algebra Project Comes to TC

A Civil Rights approach to math education

The Algebra Project, founded by Civil Rights-era leader and educator Bob Moses to improve math literacy among low-income children of color, is holding a series of coaching sessions at Teachers College this summer for third-, sixth- and ninth-grade teachers from Harlem schools.

"Bob Moses is one of America's foremost educational innovators, an iconic leader who combines his unique understanding of teaching and learning with a passion to bring the benefits of education to the least advantaged children in our society," said Darlyne Bailey, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean, Teachers College. "We are delighted that the children of Harlem will benefit from the same proven methodologies he has brought to bear in the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere, and we are proud to partner with him in this effort, which exemplifies our commitment to professional development for teachers in under-served schools."

The goal of the Project's sessions at the College is to "introduce algebra to students who aren't usually exposed to it -- and to do so at an earlier age than is customary," said Dawn Arno, Director, TC Education Zone Partnership, the College's network of outreach program with New York City schools. "This is a big entre to improve math literacy in our neighborhoods, and to improve teachers' ability to teach." 

The workshops -- arranged by the city school system's Region 10 and Community School District 5 in conjunction with Teachers College -- are being held on June 15th, 16th, 17th, 22nd, 23rd and 24th; July 5th, 6th, 7th and 31st; and August 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. All sessions will be held at Teachers College from 9 to 12 noon. Schools whose teachers will participate include PS 154, PS 197 and PS 200; IS 172 (Adam Clayton Powell); IS 195 (Roberto Clemente) and IS 286 (Renaissance Leadership Military Academy); Choir Academy; Frederick Douglass Academy; and Bread and Roses. The sessions also will be attended math coaches from these schools, regional instructional specialists for math; and New York City's math intervention specialist, Elizabeth Ballard.

David Henderson a mathematician at Cornell University who is the author of Experiences in Geometry, a widely used university-level text, is working with the sixth and ninth grade teachers. "Until recently, most people only took one geometry course in their lives, and that was in high school," he says. "Yet geometry comes out of things that human beings in all cultures have done for as far back as we have records -- building structures, navigation and star-gazing, art and pattern, machines and motion, and measurement. And it's a field where there's still active inquiry going on -- in computer graphics, in the study of cancer cells, in statistics, in economics."

Dr. Moses himself is working with the third grade teachers. "We try to forge a curricular process that brings together experiential learning, a concept that's been around for the past century, with the idea -- introduced by Willard Van Ormand Kwine -- that there is a conceptual language that undergirds the symbolic representations of math," he says. That combination is essential for answering "the central question of what kind of evidence you offer students for mathematical truths."

The Project's methodology for teaching third graders concepts of measurement -- and more specifically, how to represent amounts left over when a unit of measurement doesn't exactly describe a given quantity -- exemplifies these methods.

"I went to Home Depot last night and spent time with one of their people getting exact cuts of pieces of wood -- full pieces, halves, thirds and quarters -- and we'll use that to introduce the simplest common fractions," said Dr. Moses on the eve of the first session. "The kids can use to that to measure their own heights and that of their friends. We can also paint the different lengths different colors. And that allows us to use coding that's similar to algebraic representations -- -'r' for red, -'b' for blue, and so on. The key is to get away from pencils and papers and reading a book, and also, in this age of desktop publishing, for students and teachers to create their own tools and materials, so they're not just consumers of what others produce."

The workshops are designed not only to improve teachers' communication with students, but also teachers' own understanding of math.

"Under the industrial era model of schooling, we had Post Office-level requirements for math, with a just a few people responding to Sputnik-level challenges," Dr. Moses says. "Under that system it was OK to teach elementary school without really knowing math. But we're in an information era now, so we've got to go back to ground zero in terms of teachers' understanding of the subject."

Dr. Moses, who was born in Harlem in 1935, is a Harvard trained educator who joined the civil right movement in 1960, serving as field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He became co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization for all the major civil rights groups then working in Mississippi. As described at length in Taylor Branch's massive three-volume chronicle of Martin Luther King, he endured imprisonment and mob violence while helping the Congress of Racial Equality organize the Freedom Riders, who challenged the authority of Jim Crow racial control in the South.

Dr. Moses subsequently worked as a teacher in Tanzania, returned to Harvard to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy and taught high school math in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1982, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and used the money to create the Algebra Project, which has since benefited thousands of students in states across the country. He currently teaches math at Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi, which he uses as a laboratory school for Algebra Project methods.

The Project's central premise is that a grassroots effort similar to that which helped secure voting rights for African Americans is necessary to ensure a quality education for all students. The Project develops and implements curricular interventions that build on experiences that students find interesting -- and understand intuitively -- to help them sift from arithmetic to algebraic thinking. These include a "transition curriculum" for use in sixth and seventh grade classrooms; a high school algebra and geometry curriculum, currently in development, that is tailored to each student's command of language;  and several programs that involve not only students, but also teachers, parents and community members, as well as noted mathematicians, academics and policymakers.

The Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project (SIAP) has worked across seven southern states to provide teacher training and professional development, as well as community organizing for math literacy.

Dr. Moses is the author of Radical Equations: Civil Rights, from Mississippi to the Algebra Project. He has received the War Resisters League Peace Award, the James Bryant Conant Award from the Education Commission of the States, and the Heinz Award in the Human Condition.

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