Students can understand and benefit from being introduced to algebraic concepts even in elementary school, a forthcoming study finds.
The study is part of a group of studies on Project LEAP, for Learning Early Algebra Progression, a program developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, TERC, the University of Texas at Austin, City College of New York, and Merrimack College.
“We’re not talking about taking a traditional [algebra] curriculum and pushing it earlier in the sequence,” said Rena Stroud, a senior researcher for the project at Merrimack College. “We’re talking about what algebraic thinking looks like in early grades.”
The three-year curriculum includes 18 weekly hourlong lessons, in each of grades 3-5. In the lessons, teachers introduce students to generalizing, representing, justifying, and reasoning about numbers and correct misconceptions that often trip up older students. Researchers randomly assigned 440 3rd graders in nine high-poverty schools to get either the algebraic lessons or standard grade-level arithmetic. By the end of 5th grade, Project LEAP students performed 13 percentage points higher in math than those in the control group.
A version of this article appeared in the April 17, 2019 edition of Education Week as Math Instruction