Published Online: April 4, 2011
Published in Print: April 4, 2011, as Algebra, Reality-TV Style

Algebra, Reality-TV Style

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Students have been known to complain that algebra isn’t relevant to anything they are interested in or plan on doing in life. A new multimedia project created by a New York public television station aims to convince them otherwise—and to give teachers new opportunities to teach high-level reasoning skills.

You could think of “Get the Math,” produced by WNET’s THIRTEEN, as a kind of educational reality show, with especially strong hints of “The Apprentice.” The single-episode program, as well as the companion website, features three short video segments designed to provide an introduction to teen-favored industries—music recording, fashion design, and video game development. In the course of discussing their chosen occupations, the professionals featured in each video offer examples of how they use mathematical knowledge as part of their creative processes.

Then comes the “challenge.” At the end of each segment, the pro gives a pair of two-student teams a specific industry-related algebraic problem to solve. The videos show the teams working through the problems and then presenting their solutions. The idea, of course, is that other students can play along in their classrooms.

The program, which aired in the New York area this spring, has been distributed to public television stations nationwide. But it is also available for free in its entirety—and perhaps in a more useable form—on the website at In addition to the videos and the challenges, the site includes lesson plans and classroom activities. All the materials are designed for middle and high school classrooms.

Pedagogically, “Get the Math” is based on the idea that students need to be able to see the applicability of mathematical knowledge to situations that have clear resonance for them. “The most important component of this is really to help students understand the importance of algebra and how it’s used in real-world contexts,” says Deborah L. Ives, a veteran math teacher who is the lead content advisor for the project.

Ives, a mathematics instructional leader in Morristown, N.J., also stresses that “Get the Math” reflects a recent call by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for teachers to help students develop stronger “reasoning and sense-making” skills.

As defined in a 2009 NCTM report, “Reasoning involves drawing conclusions on a basis of evidence or assumptions. … Sense-making involves developing an understanding of a situation, context, or concept byconnecting it with existing knowledge.”

Ives says most math teachers today understand the need to help students develop such critical thinking skills, but often lack applicable materials. That's what this helps address, she says of “Get the Math.”

Vol. 04, Issue 02, Page 31

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