Skip to main content

From Buttons to Algebra: Learning the ideas and language of algebra, K-12

Paul Goldenberg
October 1, 2007
Rice University, Houston, TX

What could mathematics be like? It could spark curiosity! (How can addition and subtraction sentences ever do that?!) And it could be fascinating! (How can anything as un-sexy as memorizing multiplication facts be fascinating?!) This presentation is aimed to hook the curiosity of teachers. Through activities that teachers can use in class—activities that simultaneously give students practice and also rivet their attention and interest—this presentation shows adults some intriguing (and useful!) surprises in familiar mathematical areas. It also tells part of the story of children’s development of algebraic ideas and language, from Kindergarten sorting activities, through elementary school, culminating in knowledge that more than prepares them for success in formal algebra. Notes that accompany the visual presentation fill in some of the details about how what we know from brain science and children’s extraordinary ability to learn language has influenced the way we teach children mathematics, and why we know that all children are vastly more capable at mathematics than has usually been supposed