Michael Hunt on Scheme and algebra

High school math teacher Michael Hunt reports on his first three weeks of class:

Class periods are 40 minutes twice a week and 45 minutes three times a week. We've completed day 12 (that is, 9.5 instructional days) and completed the area-of-ring problem today. We've also done convert3 along the way. My goal is to finish the first extended exercise with the ping-pong game (hopefully by Christmas).

For context, the majority of my students "took" Algebra One at various (mostly private) schools in and around Houston last year in eighth grade, but did not score well enough on our diagnostic test to place out of Algebra One and into Geometry in ninth grade. A small minority of my students took Pre-algebra in eighth grade. A still smaller minority are repeating Algebra One, having failed it here as ninth graders last year. The pace deliberately favors these minorities of students and appears to be as fast as about 50% of the students can go. At the start, most of these students were unfamiliar with the word "function" and many could not either remember or apply the order of operations rules, for examples. Many are challenged to correctly compute arithmetic expressions without the use of a calculator. In fairness, students here historically have not been exposed to the word "function" in Algebra One until the last several weeks of the course.

I am enthusiastically pleased so far with the results we've achieved in Algebra One, using Scheme. Nearly all of the students are now appropriately using words like "function" (and even composite function), "evaluate," and "substitute." I was thrilled to have been able to introduce the word "function" on the first instructional day, particularly with these students, without overwhelming them with all of the usual conceptual and notational overhead as well as I was thrilled to see so many students grasp this fundamental mathematical concept so effortlessly!

Michael Hunt
Episcopal High School
Houston, Texas

Stephen Bloch / sbloch@adelphi.edu