Teach algebra via programming?

Schools can teach mathematical reasoning through software programming rather than conventional algebra classes,writes Julia Steiny on Education News.

In the 1980′s, when Providence, Rhode Island tried College Board’s Equity 2000, she served on the school board. “Business” and “consumer” math were eliminated in favor of algebra for all. The goal was to get everyone through geometry and advanced algebra. Providence assigned all sixth graders to pre-algebra.

The smart kids zipped through quickly, doing algebra in seventh, geometry in eighth and advanced algebra in ninth grade. Teachers created many levels of slower-paced classes for weaker students.

“In time, Equity 2000 got many more urban kids into college,” but it only helped “kids for whom low expectations were the only real problem,” Steiny writes. It will take “new approaches to lure students into the puzzles of mathematical reasoning.”

My now-grown sons, two of whom became software developers, have been arguing since high school that learning computer software programming is essentially learning algebra, only infinitely more fun, interesting, and useful.

Seymour Papert, author of Mindstorms, created Logo to enable young children to explore mathematical ideas.

About Joanne


  1. Another stupid concept…in order to do most programming, a person (in this case the student) needs to understand the basic concepts of add, subtract, multiply, divide, modulus, and some basic logic in terms of how a program should flow, what to test for when input is supplied (#1 cause of all security holes in software, improper data validation), and a few other things.

    Why do we as a nation want to try one fad after another when methods for teaching math like Singapore Math and Kumon work so well in countries that do far better in math than the U.S. of A. does?

    Inquiring minds would like to know :)

  2. Craig Messerman says:

    The programming should be the primary objective. Let the math just follow on. God forbid we should teach math with a purpose!

  3. Well, if you think of a computer program as a system for symbolically expressing the manipulation of data, then I guess programming and math come pretty close. Problems that students might want to solve (such as displaying 3D images in a game), require fairly serious linear algebra (4×4 transformation matrices) to understand, and might require physics, calculous and all sorts of other math. So, I suppose this would supply some motivation and the answer to the age-old question, “Why do we have to learn this?”

    There are probably worse ideas out there…

  4. “…that learning computer software programming is essentially learning algebra,…”

    No it isn’t. Both might require the ability to pay attention to detail, but skipping algebra closes career doors that are not opened by programming classes. As Steiny should know, even the New England Institute of Technology (a modern vocational-type school) requires algebra as a minimum for their technology degree programs.

    “…only infinitely more fun, interesting, and useful.”

    Only for some people. How many people, who have difficulty with the details of algebra, are going to have the patience to create working and tested computer programs? Is this supposed to work because the material is more interesting? Once again, she is blaming the students; that all they need are motivation and engagement.

    It would be better to argue with the CCSS pseudo-algebra II requirement for all. One should look at specific career path requirements. Many require more than algebra II and some will require less. However, it is wrong to suggest alternate paths for algebra without regard to future consequences.