Algebra department scales down on curriculum

Time constraints posed by virtual learning compelled the Algebra department to scale down their curriculum. This year they will not be teaching the completing the square method, used to solve quadratic equations, with the hopes that students’ future math classes will cover the topic when it becomes more pressing. 

After teachers were told to plan for the next six weeks of virtual school, the Algebra department met to discuss their next curriculum focus: quadratics. Algebra 1 and Geometry teacher, Linda Spadaccini, was among them. 

The quadratics unit is a sizable portion of the Algebra 1 curriculum. Three primary methods can be used to solve a quadratic equation: using the quadratic equation, factoring or completing the square. 

Spadaccini was hesitant to remove one of these methods, completing the square, but others in the department led her to realize the limitations virtual school provided; something had to go, and “this is something smaller we teach,” she said. 

“It’s like rolling a dice: we’re not going to teach them completing the square, which means at some point, someone down the road [will have to],” Spadaccini said. “Like in Geometry, you use completing the square to come up with the equation of a circle, so they’ll have to learn it then or in Algebra 2.”

Math contrasts from other subjects in that preexisting knowledge is often critical in retaining new knowledge, Spadaccini believes. 

“There’s things I teach that in 10 years you don’t need to know, I understand that,” Spaddaccini said. “But, what I’m teaching you in 9th grade, you’re going to need it in high school, in college, and if you’re really going to do something in math then you might need it all four years of college and beyond… So I feel like maybe things you learn in 9th grade Algebra you might need for the next five or six year but then you don’t need it anymore. But, the thing is that, if you can learn it and you keep it in your head, your life will be easier those five or six years. If you didn’t, then everytime it comes up, you think ‘oh here’s that thing against that I never learned,’ and it comes back to haunt you.”

Virtual learning has also caused Spaddaccini and other math teachers to shift the order they teach content.  

“In both of my math classes we started with stuff that was connected to previous knowledge, hoping that since they know a little bit about it, that that would be an easy way to get them back into school, and get them to try all the technology. In Geometry we did transformations because we know they see reflections, rotations and translations in middle school so we thought those would be an easy gateway,” she said.

Now, as her classes move to new content, Spadaccini thinks the effectiveness of her and others’ teaching in the virtual setting will be revealed. 

“Are the kids that are doing well doing well because they remember stuff or are they doing well because what they are doing is working? We don’t know until we start the new stuff. Are the kids not doing the asynchronous time because they know all of it? Will that change when they realize the material is totally new? We might have to change and do more directed instruction during the synchronous time if it seems like kids are having more trouble.”

With virtual school, Spadaccini argues it’s a learning process for all involved: teachers, students, administration, parents and others. “We’re winging it. That’s all we can do,” she said.


Contact the writer, Alexis Siegler, at [email protected] with questions