Star study examines how algebra is taught in Massachusetts public school districts

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Harvard Graduate School of Education Assistant Professor Jon Star recently launched an extensive research project in more than 50 public school districts across Massachusetts focused on improving students’ learning of mathematics by examining how algebra is currently taught in local classrooms.

“Algebra is a critically important course for students. Those who succeed in algebra are more likely to pursue and succeed in more advanced mathematics courses in high school and in college, which in turn leads to greater opportunities in the workplace,” Star said. “In this study, we are researching ways to improve the teaching of algebra so all students can have success in this course.”

With the support of the National Science Foundation, Star, in collaboration with researchers from Vanderbilt University and Temple University, has developed curriculum and instructional materials that have been shown in small-scale studies to help students learn and understand algebra. These materials are designed to be used as a supplement to students’ normal instruction in algebra.

In a randomized controlled trial, some teachers in algebra classes will participate in a one-week summer professional development institute at Harvard and then implement Star’s curriculum and instructional materials throughout their algebra course. The learning gains of these teachers’ students will be compared with other algebra teachers who are not using Star’s materials. In the project’s next year, these ‘control’ teachers will participate in the summer professional development and implement Star’s curriculum and instructional materials in their classes. The study will conclude in 2013.