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Survivor Algebra

I've been getting a ton of questions about my Survivor Algebra stuff.  The original article I had on it was written about three years ago...  And a lot's changed since then!  My methods have been evolving and I've learned a great deal about the psychology of learning (both through reading and my own interactions with students.)  I decided that, instead of answering the same questions over and over again in emails to individuals (which I like getting, by the way), I'd put all the detail here.

All the info and articles are below, but, first, let me give some background about myself so you know where I'm coming from...

I've been teaching math for about 14 years (writing this in summer 2005) at the community college level.  (But, these methods will all work with middle and high school kids too.  I know of many teachers who have been using Survivor Algebra successfully at these levels for a couple of years.)  For the last four years, I've been specializing in Algebra -- Survivor Algebra.  Most of the classes I teach have 65 students...  Yes, I use this method with that many students at a time with no problems!  Sometimes, I'm in the big theater with 140 students and manage to pull it off in there too (just not as much group work.)   I estimate that I've done my Survivor Algebra gig with a few thousand students, so far.

I am a former mathphobe and a former bad student, so I know what's inside these kids' heads.  I know what it feels like to fail a math class.  I know what it feels like to get nauseous just opening up a math textbook.  I know what it's like to be chronically tardy and unsuccessful in a class.  It's not a good feeling and I don't want my students to have it.  Once I realized I had a knack for math, I had to transform myself into a good student.  I think this is the main reason that I've been so fascinated by figuring out how to transform my own students.

When I first started teaching, I did it the traditional way... Lecture and questions.  I was always able to explain things really well, but there was clearly something missing.  No matter what I tried, over half of my students would drop or fail.  (The average success rate for Algebra at the community college level is about 45%...  So, over half usually fail and that's just not right.)  Since I've made these changes, I've gotten my success rates up to 75-80%...  Sometimes higher!

So, here is Survivor Algebra: