Falling in Love with Algebra and Geometry

Building Love for Algebra and Geometry, a project run by Indiana State University faculty and students at South Vermillion Middle School in Clinton, Indiana, is contributing to the decrease in students’ math apprehension.

The project, which began in the fall, infuses fun and hands-on activities into mathematics, a subject generally considered technical. It helps students think outside their comfort zones and conceptualize ideas they are working on, thereby enabling critical thinking and building interest in the subject. This conceptualization enables students to develop richer and deeper understanding behind mathematical concepts.

The Program Coordinator of Building Love for Algebra and Geometry project, Connor Godwin, explains that students who used to have negative perceptions about math in the school are now willing to try and enjoy learning the subject. Adding that students’ ability to figure out the shapes involved in origami among other activities enables their critical thinking and perseverance. According to him, “Understanding the concepts helps students understand why they will get a problem right or wrong and this boosts their morale and even help them in their everyday life when they grow up.”

Godwin, who is also a graduate of Mathematics and Mathematics Teaching from Indiana State University, expresses excitement about the evolving hands-on nature of this type of learning. He also explains that his personal experience with math when growing up was about “do this, get the right answer, then move on, without an understanding of the concepts of why procedures are being followed.” He notes that even though he loved math, he and most of his peers during their lower grade levels were more focused on getting the right answers and when they do not, panic about their difficulties.

The need for students to perceive math positively and “love” the subject has been the topic of research for decades as negative perceptions affect students’ attitude and perseverance to succeed in the subject. Research shows that the perception of students towards math is a huge determining factor in their attitude towards the subject and this perception is influenced by factors such as the level of difficulty in grasping concepts, and even when these concepts are grasped, students easily forget what they have learned. According to a paper presented at a UGC (University Grants Commission) sponsored National Seminar on Pedagogy of Teachers Education-Trends and Challenges in 2015, students’ interest, self-efficacy beliefs, and task value beliefs related to math are influenced by whether they “like” the subject or not. And in the last couple of years, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the situation to cause substantial learning gaps due to disrupted and remote learning, as well as lack of resources or support to maintain the goals of students with great academic needs in a virtual learning environment, among others.

As a result, Building Love for Algebra and Geometry was developed by an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Indiana State University, Dr. Yi-Yin “Winnie” Ko, to help students who fell behind in these subjects during the pandemic to catch up, as well as promote overall students’ learning and understanding of algebra and geometry concepts, both domains in which proof plays a vital role in middle school math.

The project currently implements four activities to provide opportunities for students to develop positive attitudes towards mathematics, recognize their strengths of mathematical thoughts, enables critical thinking, and generally build love for the subject as they learn mathematics in several ways. The activities include creating Tangram pieces to make different shapes that help calculate the areas of the shapes created; making Operation Squares to enable hands-on activity to create and solve problems focusing on computational standards in math;

making One-Straight-Cut Origami which focuses on geometry ideas looking at symmetry and transformation, and creating Pythagorean Spiral to help with geometry and measurement.

The project received $183, 706 worth of funding from the Indiana Department of Education in 2021 to implement activities as part of the South Vermillion Middle school’s two-year accelerated program, where students chosen by teachers as needing the most support in learning Algebra and Geometry concepts are coached to use these research-based interventions to improve their learning.

By Office of Sponsored Programs