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Algebra equals fun for some seventh-graders

May 18, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Star-Lena Quintana of Northern Middle School does not think it's a big deal that she is taking - as a seventh-grader - an algebra course that most Washington County Public Schools students don't take until high school.

"I think it's cool because it's fun. Most people think it's, like, hard and everything. But with this teacher, it's fun," Star-Lena, 12, said during a break in the class last week. "It is not too hard."

Star-Lena is taking part in a pilot project for advanced students at three schools - Northern, Smithsburg and Boonsboro middle schools - who are taking algebra. While advanced students occasionally have been allowed to take algebra in eighth grade, this is the first year seventh-graders can take it, said her teacher, Jena K. Staley.

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By taking algebra earlier, the students can take more high-level math classes before high school graduation and possibly attend math classes at Hagerstown Community College during their senior year, Leslie Hobbs, supervisor of secondary mathematics, said Thursday in an e-mail.

"I like it because I can get ahead of everyone else," said class member Charlie Brasher, 13.

Geoffrey Huntoon, 13, said he likes being part of the pilot project.

"It is exciting. We get to be the guinea pigs," he said.

Their teacher, Staley, comes up with creative, enjoyable ways to help the students review what they learned, he said.

During Thursday's class, Staley said they were going to try something new, which she called, "crumple, solve and toss."

"You are going to test-drive this activity," she said.

"Algebra problems should never be crumpled," Staley said, to which one student replied, "they should be burned." But, Staley finished, "for this exercise, I will go through this heartache."

The 24 students in the class were divided into four-member teams.

Crumpled algebra problems were in three bowls, one each for easy, medium and hard questions.

After a team reached consensus and solved a problem, the team would write its team numbers on the paper and crumple it up again.

Students from the teams then took turns trying to "toss" the answers into another basket. Some students teased each other when they missed a basket.

During lunch break, Staley said one of her goals in the class is to let the students have fun while learning.

She teaches the exact same algebra lessons to seventh-grade classes as she does to eighth-graders.

The three schools were selected for participation in the pilot project because of the large number of students who were excelling in sixth-grade math programs at those schools, Hobbs said.

In the fall, Springfield and E. Russell Hicks middle schools also will offer the program, she said.

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