Nebraska Algebra | Overview

Nebraska Algebra: Ensuring success in gateway course Algebra I

Nebraska Algebra was NebraskaMATH's initiative to support school districts and their Algebra I teachers as they work to ensure success for all students in this important gateway course. The initiative had a special focus on the goal of extending success to students who historically have not been successful in Algebra I and, as a result, tend to have an unsuccessful mathematics education in high school. In Fall 2008, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln received $9.2 million from the National Science Foundation to create NebraskaMATH, a statewide partnership to strengthen mathematics teaching and learning in Nebraska. Nebraska Algebra, a one-year, 9-hour graduate program for Algebra 1 teachers, was one of three main NebraskaMATH programs. More than 110 teachers participated in the Nebraska Algebra program between 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.

Nebraska Algebra Cohort 3

Benefits and Support

The primary audience for Nebraska Algebra was Algebra 1 teachers who had a secondary (7-12) mathematics endorsement. Algebra 1 teachers with a middle level endorsement who enjoy learning challenging mathematics were also successful in the program.

Benefits to Nebraska Algebra participants included:

  • No charge for tuition or fees;
  • A stipend during the summer;
  • Mileage reimbursement at the standard UNL rate for teachers who must travel more than 30 miles one way to participate in Nebraska Algebra classes; and/or
  • Housing and meal support if residential housing was required to participate in Nebraska Algebra.

As a limited, grant-funded resource, teachers who were selected for Nebraska Algebra had the support of their building principal and their district to participate in the program. During the academic year following the summer institute, districts (or ESUs) supported their teacher participants by providing instructional coaches or master teacher mentors and by providing teachers with two days of release time each semester to enable them to participate in the Nebraska Algebra initiative. In addition, some work was completed online and an occasional study group met after school.

Algebra I

Algebra I is recognized as a "gateway" course. Students who successfully complete Algebra I often continue to pursue the study of high school mathematics that prepares them for college, while students who are unsuccessful in Algebra I find their path to success blocked. Thus, while districts are often successful in offering Algebra I in middle school to their best prepared students, others arrive in high school not yet ready to take Algebra I. Some districts are experimenting with versions of "Extended Algebra" where students who are behind grade level take mathematics for two periods each day. Others may offer Algebra I over a two-year period. Nebraska Algebra sought to encourage districts to adopt the goal of having all students succeed in Algebra I and, to the extent possible, to do so by the end of Grade 9 (or Grade 10 at the latest).

Curriculum Details

The Nebraska Algebra Summer Institute used the concentrated immersion approach developed by the Math in the Middle program. For two weeks, classes met 8-5 daily (Monday-Friday) with nightly homework. At the end of a course, teachers completed an End-of-Course Assignment designed to support the long-term retention of material studied in the course. Thus, teachers earned 6 graduate credits during the summer while being in class for only two weeks. While this approach was intense, support for participants was substantial. This approach proved to be quite popular with teachers because it protected most of the summer for other activities. The Summer Institute included the following two courses:

  • MATH 810T: Algebra for Algebra Teachers: The algebra course was created by UNL professor Ira Papick, author of an algebra textbook for middle level teachers, Algebra Connections. In the course, teachers are challenged to develop a deep understanding of important topics in modern algebra. The course is designed to assist teachers in seeing the fundamental connections between what they are learning and what they will be teaching.
  • EDPS (Educational Psychology) 991: Cognition and Motivation: This course focuses on motivation and cognition issues related to student learning, with implications for teaching mathematics to adolescents. The educational psychology course was created by UNL professors Roger Bruning and Doug Kauffman. It is a unique contribution to Nebraska Algebra because it recognizes the central importance of understanding the learner and how to motivate Algebra I students in order to be successful in teaching algebra to all of them.

Note: MATH 810T and EDPS 991 will now be offered through the Nebraska Math and Science Summer Institutes and open to any secondary mathematics teacher.

The Summer Institute was followed by a yearlong pedagogy course, TEAC 991: Field Studies in Education, that supports algebra teachers as they build on what they have studied and enhance their own teaching. The lead instructors in 2011 were Jerel Welker and Sue Graupner of Lincoln Public Schools and Linda Hayek, UNL lecturer. Participants worked with their UNL instructor on coursework and with their instructional coach or mentor to discuss pedagogical issues connected to teaching algebra with an emphasis on working with student populations. During the spring semester, the work centered on planninglessons and will incorporate select features associated with what is known as Lesson Study. Participants will observe one of their peers teach a lesson, followed by a group lesson debriefing and analysis of student understanding. In this modified version of what is known as Japanese Lesson Study, teachers focus on student engagement and learning and have the opportunity to reflect on how planning and careful teacher-instructional moves can enhance the learning experience for their Algebra I students.

NebraskaMATH Final Report 2015

Over the past six years, the $9.3 million NSF-funded NebraskaMATH grant has impacted more than 700 teacher leaders across the state. The "NebraskaMATH Final Report,” published in 2015, showcases the scope of the grant’s three core programs, Primarily Math, New Teacher Network and Nebraska Algebra, as well as the programs that grew from them. Funded by the National Science Foundation, NebraskaMATH thanks not only the NSF for its support, but also the many teachers who have taken our courses and have gone back into their classrooms dedicated to the young people of Nebraska. It’s been an inspiration to collaborate with all of you. Download a copy of the final report by clicking on the image of the report.