While most high schools in Oregon and across the nation struggle to get freshmen to pass algebra, one school district is trying something very different.
Lebanon, which educates 4,000 students in eight schools, is pushing algebra on students as early as first grade. And the kids are getting it.
More than 80 percent of Lebanon eighth-graders passed the state math test, compared with 66 percent at schools with similar demographics. No other large or medium-size Oregon district outdid its peers by 15 percentage points.
Among the key elements: Begin simple algebra and multiplication by first grade; have every child talk extensively about his or her mathematical reasoning; let students set up their own problems and equations and allow them to use big numbers if they choose; cover few topics in great depth; use lots of visual and hands-on modeling to make math ideas concrete.
"Something happens when they play with numbers every day -- numbers they come up with themselves, equations they write themselves," says Marla Ernst, a teacher who also coaches fellow teachers. She is largely responsible for finding the approach and spreading it districtwide. "They get an innate sense of what is seven, what is a fraction."
In primary classrooms in Lebanon, students deftly use number lines, work with negative numbers and solve basic algebraic equations. Few students sit stumped on the sidelines.
The day that (2 x 19) - 16 was one of the warmup equations in Beth Moore's third-grade classroom, every hand went up when she asked how they'd solved 2 times 19 in their heads so quickly.
Says 9-year-old Casey McEuen : "Sometimes the problems can be very hard and difficult, but we can figure it out."