Reducing Math Failure through Applied Algebra

I stumbled onto this local article in an Albany paper about a school that created Applied Algebra classes in response to 40% failure rates in freshmen math classes. The basic idea appears to be heavy PBL, focusing on projects that apply math in building things like birdhouses, metal toolboxes, miniature parachutes and model cars powered by mousetraps.

Engagement, attendance, and grades are up as a result. They don’t have data yet on how it may or may not have improved test scores, but signs are encouraging.

When I read things like this, I worry that the “engagement” can come from stepping away from math if things aren’t crafted carefully. But there is enough here to suggest that the teachers know what they are doing, and have taken steps to ensure that the math element remains strong.


We will have a lot more on this topic over the summer and next school year. I’m working on two related projects right now. We’re developing PD and support materials now.


I’m forwarding this to our middle school peeps!

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Every math concept that we’re able to teach in the context of something tangible and relevant, students engage and learn. As soon as it starts to feel like math for the sake of math, students are bored. I’m interested to see what’s being developed!

Beyond our expansion of EdReady with additional staff supports and supplemental materials, I am in the process of helping the Robbinsdale school district update their Math instruction using OER and digital resources. We’ve identified some very high quality resources and are putting it into their LMS for review now. One of the best parts of this, after developing the resources and assessments related to standards has been focusing on what the skills actually mean in the real world. While I sit and talk Math with one of their staff, I constantly ask about what application that has in the real world that students would find value in. Then we take those elements and incorporate them into the courses.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens myself. Whatever comes of that project would be available for us at 287 as well since we’re focusing on OER.