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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Conference to kick off summerís Indiana Algebra Readiness Initiative

IU School of Education a partner in ISTEM, Indiana Department of Education program

June 24, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Educators from the Indiana University School of Education are involved in an initiative to support Indiana teachers and administrators to better prepare their students for success in algebra, starting with a free conference for 200 today in Indianapolis.

The Indiana Algebra Readiness Conference is sponsored by the Indiana Department of Education and coordinated by the I-STEM Resource Network, a partnership of Indiana's public and private higher education institutions, K-12 schools, business and government. The conference, which is a part of the overall Algebra Readiness Initiative, reached registration capacity less than two weeks after I-STEM announced it.

It kicks off the Initiative, which will continue with regional workshops in July and August at five locations around the state. In addition, partners in the initiative are developing an online Algebra Teaching toolkit, with resources and networking features to provide additional support to teachers and administrators.

Faculty from the IU School of Education will join colleagues from higher education institutions across the state for Tuesday's conference at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, then spend two additional days designing the regional workshops.

"They're going to take ideas from this conference and design workshops for teachers in their regions so they can meet the needs of teachers in different areas of the state," said Bill Walker, executive director for the I-STEM Network. "We don't want to assume that we have a one-size-fits-all model, where if we just do one thing it will work for all teachers. So instead, we've formed regional teams and each team will be able to pick and choose things that they think will help the teachers from their region of Indiana."

Walker said the primary goal of the Algebra Readiness Initiative is to help teachers help more Indiana students achieve success in algebra. Students beginning ninth grade in 2008 will be required to pass the state's End-of-Course Algebra exam.

"We're trying to help teachers better prepare students so that they are successful and graduate," Walker said. "We don't want algebra to be a barrier to success for students but rather we want algebra to open up opportunities."

Catherine Brown, director of the IU Bloomington Center for Research and P-16 Collaboration and professor of mathematics education, will conduct conference sessions on "Cognitive Demand of Mathematical Tasks." Other sessions will focus on "Algebraic Habits of Mind" and "Formative Assessment for Success in Algebra." The session topics were generated in consultation with national experts in the area of algebra readiness. These three topics will guide the development of the regional workshops.

"The topics selected for the Algebra Initiative are three of the most important 'big ideas' in algebra teaching," Brown said. "Focusing on these will help Hoosier math teachers create classrooms in which students are learning algebra with greater understanding and greater success than in the past."

"In the past, algebra has been taught in a very procedural way—'this is how you finish this,'" said Rick Hudson, graduate student in mathematics education who is assisting with the conference. "One of our goals is to allow students to start to build a more conceptual understanding of what they're doing instead of just procedures to accomplish a task."

After this week's conference, the initiative partners begin conducting the regional workshops throughout the state. The dates for the regional workshops are set, although the exact sites are tentative. They are:

NORTHWEST: Merrillville
Purdue University Calumet, Academic Learning Center, Merillville, Aug. 11-12

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne-Walb Student Union (G-08 & 114), July 31-Aug. 1

CENTRAL: Indianapolis
IUPUI, July 28-29

SOUTHWEST: Evansville
University of Southern Indiana, Health Professions Center, July 30-31

Community Learning Center of Jackson County, Seymour, July 23-24.

The regional two-day workshops are free to participants, but enrollment is limited to 50. More information is available online at or from the I-STEM Resource Network by emailing or calling 765-494-2757.

Media Outlets: the following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at Look for this news release under "News" on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.

Walker explains the importance of the workshops given the requirement of the new end-of-course exam for algebra:

"The stakes for that test are changing and so we're trying to, as that's starting to get implemented, we're trying to help teachers be better prepared so that their students, so that the graduation exam passing rate will not go down. We want it to either to maintain or to improve given that the graduation exam is going to change."

After Tuesday's conference, Walker explains that the partners will spend two more days planning the July and August workshops:

"They're going to take ideas from this conference and design workshops for their regional teachers so they can meet the needs of teachers in different areas of the state. So we don't want to assume that we have a one size fits all model where if we just do one thing it will work for all teachers, so instead we're taking experts from the different areas who have been working with teachers in those areas and they'll be able to pick and choose things that they think will help the teachers from the regions."

Eventually, Walker says, I-STEM will make an Internet resource available so that teachers can have continuous access to ideas for teaching algebra:

"Once we get those materials online and teachers are trained on how to use them, they'll be able to have unlimited access to these, so in that way if they can't find one of these regional experts to help them out they'll be able to go to the materials on an unlimited basis and basically have ongoing support in their classrooms."

Hudson explains some of the thinking behind the algebraic teaching concepts the conference and workshops are based around:

"I would say that in the past algebra has been taught in a very procedural way; it's a procedure that you follow. This is how you finish this. So one of our goals, this is probably one of the goals of math education more generally not just of this conference, but one of our goals is that students start to build more conceptual understanding of what they're doing instead of just procedural learning. You know in the past, it was important for students to be fast algorithm solvers, fast computation solvers and that's not as important in today's world, because technology can do a lot of the fast computation that was required."