Does Early Algebra Matter? Results of a One-Year Grades 3-5 Early Algebra Intervention

Wednesday November 7, 2012 | 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM | Friday Institute, BB&T Room

Early algebra research has provided us with critical qualitative evidence regarding how elementary grades children think algebraically. However, a fundamental—but largely untested—premise of early algebra education is that it will increase children’s algebraic understanding as well as their success with more formal algebra in later grades. This presentation reports results of a one-year early algebra intervention in grades 3–5 as a first step in a larger research program examining the longitudinal impacts of early algebra on children’s algebra readiness for middle grades. The instructional sequence and assessment for the intervention were constructed using a learning progressions approach and are organized around the content domains of generalized arithmetic; functional thinking; equivalence, expressions, equations, and inequalities; variable; and proportional reasoning. Results show that a comprehensive approach to algebra instruction in the elementary grades has significant within-in grade impacts on children’s algebraic understanding and can influence the types of strategies children use in problem solving.


Maria Blanton is a Senior Scientist at TERC in Cambridge, MA. Her primary research interests include teaching and learning algebra in the elementary grades and the application of sociocultural theory in teaching and learning proof in undergraduate classrooms. Her work has led to numerous national and international presentations, publications (in, e.g., Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, Teaching Children Mathematics), and federally-funded research projects. She is co-editor of the research volumes Algebra in the Early Grades (2008, Taylor/Francis) and Teaching and Learning Proof Across the Grades (2009, Routledge), author of Algebra and the Elementary Classroom: Transforming Thinking, Transforming Practice (2008, Heinemann), and co-author of Developing Essential Understanding of Algebraic Thinking for Teaching Mathematics in Grades 3–5 (2011, NCTM). She recently served as Chair of the Editorial Panel for the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education and secretary of the SIG-RME. She is currently co-chair of the SIG-RME. Dr. Blanton is PI of several NSF-funded projects investigating grades K-5 children’s algebra understanding.

This event is an installment of the FI Seminar Series. The FI Seminar Series showcases innovative work from FI research and engagement teams, as well as that of our partners in the College of Education, throughout NC State University, and across the nation. These seminars are an opportunity for informal presentation, discussion and engagement in our community, allowing us to increase collaboration and advance our work by learning from colleagues and peers. The FI Seminar Series is open to the public.