Term of Award

Fall 2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies (Ed.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Department

Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading

Committee Chair

Yasar Bodur

Committee Member 1

Ming Fang He

Committee Member 2

Marlynn Griffin

Committee Member 3

Susie Lanier

Abstract

Over the past two decades, a considerable amount of algebra instruction nationwide has shifted from high school to middle school. In Georgia, all eighth-grade students have been required to take a course that is equivalent to about 80 percent of a traditional Algebra 1 course. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore how a selected group of eighth-grade students in a suburban Georgia middle school experience algebra within the eighth grade mathematics curriculum. A qualitative research design was used to investigate students’ perceptions of algebra, the strategies employed by teachers to teach algebra, students’ difficulties with algebra, and students’ prior experiences with mathematics. Constructivism provided the theoretical framework for the study. As a theory of active knowing and learning, constructivism is a primary theoretical perspective on learning mathematics (Ernest, 1997).

Purposeful sampling was used to select six eighth-grade participants for the study. Specifically, intensity sampling was used to identify students who had difficulty with algebra to a high, but not extreme, extent (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2007). Data collection methods included student profiles, individual and focus group interviews, think-aloud interviews, and document analysis. Data were analyzed through the constant comparative method.

Findings from this study indicate that the participants perceive algebra as being too difficult for eighth grade, especially in terms of the pace of instruction. While the participants indicated that it was important for all students to learn algebra, they noted that differentiated

instructional strategies are necessary. Data from this study, however, reveal that teachers continue to rely on traditional teaching methods such as lecture and note taking. Participants further noted a benefit from cooperative learning strategies, as well as support and encouragement from teachers. It was also evident from the data that students are relying on memorization of rules or steps to solve algebra problems, rather than developing an understanding of the concepts. In addition, the participants reported feeling unprepared for the algebra they experienced in eighth grade, based on their previous math classes. These findings indicate opportunities for improving students’ experience of algebra in two major areas: curriculum and pedagogy.

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