Transforming algebra from gatekeeper to STEM gateway
Students often think only “smart” kids with special talent get math. Arnulfo Pérez is breaking down this myth by making algebra so engaging that students are drawn to it — and to STEM.
Last summer, Pérez’s team introduced teachers to an approach that integrates math and engineering. The pilot lessons engage learners with circuitry concepts using a bread board, batteries, wires, resistors, and switches. Tangible goals — such as creating a functioning circuit to turn on a light bulb — put linear functions in the context of a task with meaning. Algebra content is part of the approach, but so are broader skills and dispositions linked to STEM engagement.
Increasing engagement is especially important for underserved students, including Latinos and immigrant students in South-Western City Schools, Pérez’s research site. Students outside majority cultural groups often have needs — and potential — that go unnoticed.
Data from the classrooms of participating teachers reveal that the LEDs connected to the circuits are not the only lights coming on. Students who often are passive and hesitant in mathematics have shown increased ability to collaborate and persist as they navigate the lessons’ unfamiliar territory.