Math teacher makes a game of algebra County considers adopting method

November 09, 1992|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

A unique method of teaching algebra that is being used in more than 1,000 classrooms across the country could soon make an appearance in Howard County thanks to Henry Borenson.

Mr. Borenson, who resigned in 1989 from a teaching position in Bucks County, Pa., to travel the country and conduct math workshops for teachers, promotes a method he calls the Hands-On Equations Learning System. He demonstrated the method here recently for about 30 teachers.

The system uses chess pawns and numbered cubes that physically represent elements of algebraic equations.

Teachers demonstrate how to solve algebra problems by removing pieces set up on a demonstration scale in front of the class. Students follow along using sets of their own.

With the technique, small children are not only able to solve ninth-grade algebra problems but can explain what they are doing and the logic behind it, Mr. Borenson said.

Joan Fox, a Burleigh Manor Middle School teacher, said the method is successful because it enables students to visualize abstract problems.

"They need concrete models," said Ms. Fox of her sixth- and seventh-graders, who will be introduced to the method. "I wish I had been taught using concrete models."

Burleigh Manor Middle School teacher Michele Zurad agreed.

"The kids like touching things," said Ms. Zurad, who teaches sixth-grade math.

"It's like a game to them," she said.

The traditional way of teaching algebra is too abstract for students, said Mr. Borenson, a Pennsylvania Presidential Awards finalist in 1987 and 1988. "It's too vague," he said. "We're trying to encourage students to find the answer in a way that makes sense to them."

To show how the system works, a group of fourth- and fifth-graders from St. Louis School in Clarksville attended the workshop to learn the system.

By using pawns to represent variables, and cubes to signify constants, the students solved such algebra problems as 4x + 2 = 3x + 9. The students solved the problems by counting on their fingers or removing pawns and cubes from the demonstration scale in front of the audience.

The students, who had never been exposed to algebra before, seemed confused at first, but were eager to learn more by the end of their 30-minute lesson.

"I thought it was hard and I thought some of it was easy," said Vincent Sears, 9.

Michelle Pantuso agreed. "It was a little hard," the 10-year-old said. "But it was fun."

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