Session 10, Grades K-2, Part B:
An Example for Developing Algebraic Thinking (25 minutes)

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000) identifies algebra as a strand for grades Pre-K-12. The Standards identify the following concepts that all students should cover and be able to:
Note 4

 • Understand patterns, relationships, and functions • Represent and analyze mathematical situations and structures using algebraic symbols • Use mathematical models to represent and understand quantitative relationships • Analyze change in various contexts

For the Pre-K-2 classroom, understanding patterns includes the following expectations:

 • Recognize, describe, and extend patterns such as sequences of sounds and shapes or simple numeric patterns, and translate from one representation to another • Analyze how repeating and growing patterns are both generated

In this part, we'll look at problems that foster algebraic thinking as it relates to these standards, and we'll explore ways of asking questions that elicit algebraic thinking. The situations you will be exploring are representative of the kinds of problems you would find in some existing texts; in fact, you may recognize some of them! The goal is for you to examine these problems with the critical eye of someone who has taken this course and is beginning to view algebraic thinking with a different perspective.

Consider the situation below, appropriate for exploration in a K-2 classroom:

Tat Ming is designing square swimming pools. Each pool has a square center that is the area of the water. Tat Ming uses blue tiles to represent the water. Around each pool there is a border of white tiles. Here are pictures of the three smallest square pools that he can design, with blue tiles for the interior and white tiles for the border.
Note 5

Problem B1

 Problem B2 How do your questions reflect the algebra content in the situation?

 Now focus on the questions you want the students in your classroom to consider. In kindergarten, begin by having students focus on the relationship between the numbers of blue and white tiles by sorting the tiles into blue tiles for the water and white tiles for the border. In a first-grade class, students might focus on the blue tiles and what it means to be square. In a second-grade class, students might begin to organize their data into a table.

 Problem B3 What patterns, conjectures, and questions will your students find as they work with this situation?

 Problem B4 What questions could you as the teacher pose to elicit and extend student thinking at your grade level?

 Problem B5 Recall the framework you explored in Session 2 in looking at patterns: finding, describing, explaining, and using patterns to predict. Which of these skills will your students use in approaching this problem?

 Problem B6 Read the article "Experiences with Patterning" from Teaching Children Mathematics. What ideas mentioned seem appropriate for your classroom?

 Here's a problem on patterns developed for a kindergarten class: Shoe Patterns Focus: Extend patterns Materials: Children's shoes Children sit in a circle, and each child removes one shoe. Arrange some of the shoes in a patterned line. (For example, the pattern might be: vertical, horizontal, vertical, horizontal; this is a nice opportunity to use these terms). Ask if children think they know how to add their shoes to the line, following the pattern. Let several children add their shoes to either end of the line before you ask them whether they can describe the pattern. Let the rest of the children add their shoes and see how far the pattern reaches.

 Problem B7 What questions could you ask to develop students' skills in describing patterns?

 Problem B8 What questions could you ask to develop students' skills in predicting?

 The swimming pool problem adapted from Algebra in the K-12 Curriculum: Dilemmas and Possibilities, Final Report to the Board of Directors, by the NCTM Algebra Working Group (East Lansing, Mich.: Michigan State University, 1995). Problem and analysis of algebraic thinking discussed in "Experiences with Patterning," by Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Glenda Lappan, and Elizabeth Phillips, in Teaching Children Mathematics (February 1997), p. 282-288. Problem B6 taken from Everyday Mathematics, Teacher's Guide to Activities, Kindergarten, developed by the University of Chicago Math Project (New York: SRA/McGraw-Hill, 2001). McGraw-Hill makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy of any information contained in the McGraw-Hill Material, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. In no event shall McGraw-Hill have any liability to any party for special, incidental, tort, or consequential damages arising out of or in connection with the McGraw-Hill Material, even if McGraw-Hill has been advised of the possibility of such damages.
 Session 10, Grades K-2: Index | Notes | Solutions | Video