Survivor Algebra Why Survivor Algebra?

(last revised in 2007 by Coolmath Karen)

This all started 7 years ago...  I’d been teaching community college math for 9 years…  Up until that time, yes, I'd taught Algebra several times, but I had really been specializing in Precalculus, Calculus 1 and Math for Elementary Teachers and it had been a few years since I had done an Algebra course. 

I was about to start year ten of my teaching career and got my assignment of classes...  Oh, no!  Intermediate Algebra?  Yish!  Boy, I did NOT want to teach THAT class.

The last few times I had taught the course, I didn’t really enjoy the experience… No, that's being kind.  I hated the experience and I think most of my students did too! My students sat there apathetically while I lectured.  Most of them were pretty polite about it...  But, come on.  A teacher can see it when eye balls are rapidly flitting back and forth in student's heads as they try to not fall asleep.

I even remember walking to those classes thinking, "Well, here I go...  in to jam a bunch more material down their throats and most of them won't even be paying attention to me."  This is not a good feeling.  I wanted to enjoy going to all of my classes and I wanted all (well, I'd settle for 95%) of my students to want to come to my classes too!

My students were not learning.  Well, some of them were...  But, these were just good students anyway.  Why should most of these kids care about learning Algebra anyway?  Most were general ed. kids who literally felt punished by having to be in a math class...  They viewed me as standing in the way of their dreams.

I found myself always dreading these classes.  Of course, this was a big part of the problem:  ME!  Even though I was a "great teacher"...  always prepped, always trying, always good at explaining things, always tried to keep a good sense of humor... 

The other problem was the students -- not really the students, themselves, but their attitudes. 

There were three main issues with the students:

1) Since I was teaching at the community college level, the students had seen all this stuff before in high school, so they’d sit there bored, thinking, “Oh, I know all this” and they wouldn’t study… and they’d fail.  This is still very true of high school and middle school students.  We overlap so much material throughout our Prealgebra-Algebra sequences, they think they've seen it all before.  Zzzzzzzzz.

2)  They hated math and were being forced to suffer through it to complete their "general ed" requirements.  Now, in high school, most of them have to pass Algebra 1 to graduate.

3)  They just aren't motivated to want to learn this stuff.

So, why is it that smart kids can sit in our classes and not learn? 

Look to #3 for the majority of the problem.  Some good motivation often takes care of #1 and #2!  I'll tell you how to fix #3 later in this material.  Yes, there IS a way!!

But, I hadn't quite figured this all out back then when I saw that Intermediate Algebra course on my schedule...  I just knew that, if I was going to survive the experience of teaching Algebra again, something was going to have to change. Not only did I not want to suffer through this again I did not want my students to suffer through this again. 

The answer for me was to completely throw out tradition -- ignore the standard lecture approach that I'd been using.  I was going to have to change myself as a teacher too!  If I had my way to really change things up, what would I do?

The answer was:  SURVIVOR ALGEBRA!

In a nutshell (I expand on all this in the next sections), Survivor Algebra is a combination of self-learning, question sessions and group work.  It's a way to train the students to teach themselves... I've been told by MANY students that these skills have flowed over into all their other courses too and that their grades increased across the board!  It's the old "teaching them to fish" thinking.

The goals of this Survivor Algebra are the following:

  • To build critical thinking skills 
    (Let’s be real here, most students are required to take math for the thinking skills it develops – not because they’ll really need to factor those polynomials when they get out in the real world!)

  • To get involved in their own learning

  • To reduce the anxiety of being in a math class and ease nerves during exams  

  • To strengthen their ability to learn math (and other things) on their own

  • It will build the student’s confidence with math and other seemingly difficult subjects

  • To increase exam performance and retention of material learned  

  • To provide students with a deeper understanding of the material (since they’ll be explaining it to others)  

  • To help students get to know their fellow students and teacher better.  


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