Algebra Academy Students to Showcase Projects
Projects engineered by area students will be showcased on Thursday as part of the UA's Algebra Academy program.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications
July 1, 2009

Hundreds of southern Arizona students will present their work as part of The University of Arizona's Algebra Academy on Thursday at an Academic Showcase.

The 140 students, who have been involved in an algebra-driven curriculum for five weeks, participated in the program, which is run by the UA's Office of Early Academic Outreach through a partnership with Sunnyside Unified School District, Tucson Unified School District and about one dozen local teachers. 

The teachers were exposed to an existing curriculum of lessons in which students discover Algebra in lessons that lead up to a water bottle rocket project. 

The instructors each then developed four lesson plans of their own, enriching the curriculum this year with lessons having to do with wind energy.

"The algebra curriculum is project-based, hands-on, small-group learning," said Rudy McCormick, the office's associate director.

"They're exploring things they are able to observe in the real world and discovering trying to understand algebraic relationships," he said. 

The Algebra Academy provides professional development to the instructors, as they are then able to implement the lessons throughout the summer with a class of rising 9th grade students at a local high school.  Students are exposed to algebra, as well as to their new high school campus and its resources.

At the end of the program, the students visit the UA where they have to put their skills to work.

Last week, teams of students conducted a test launch on water bottle rockets they had created. Earlier this week, the teams had a final launch after having adjusted variables such as angle of elevation at blastoff, the amount of water in the bottle and the aerodynamic design of the rocket.

Students had to manipulate the variables to find optimum combinations to meet three measures: a vertical target hanging two yards high and 35 yards away; a horizontal ground target at 60 yards; and the last to determine which team could get the maximum distance. 

"The transition from middle school to high school is a critical period. And the variable concept in algebra is a very important concept that if understood can help students gain confidence and success in algebra ," McCormick said.

McCormick said the Tucson High Magnet School team launched one bottle 102 yards, the longest distance in recent years.

By teaching students about algebra in this way they "are able to learn about the quadratic equation and parabolic relationships in a way that is not typical of how these concepts are taught, but we hope that the experience allows students to see the relevance and importance of algebra," McCormick said.

Also during their visits to the UA, the students had a chance to listen to engineers at the UA and in industry while also learning more about what it takes to be a university student.

On Thursday, the students will present their work between 10:45 and 11:45 a.m. during the Academic Showcase in Bear Down Gymnasium. 

After the showcase, the students will attend a ceremony in Room 100 at the UA Social Sciences Building. Those who successfully complete the program earn one-unit of high school elective credit and walk away from the program with a graphing calculator. 

McCormick said Algebra Academy is not only preparation for high school, but also for the University and careers in engineering, and other disciplines.

The program, McCormick said, is "working toward our mission of increasing the number of ethnic minority, low-income, and first-generation college-bound students who are eligible to enter a degree program at a university." 


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Rudy McCormick

UA Office of Early Academic Outreach