March 12, 2001
Algebra Class Offers Lessons in Teen Culture
California State University, Sacramento
child development professor Lynda Stone has been playing anthropologist.
Twice a week, she treks to a Sacramento middle school to observe
young American teens in their native habitat. She's trying
to understand how they work in classroom groups and, specifically,
if doing so helps them learn algebra better.
Stone is far from completing her study, but her work so far
It suggests that some students benefit from "copying"
and that seemingly useless "chit chat" can actually
help the students use life experiences to solve problems.
Stone also says the student groups seem to mimic class norms
- such as expectations of being helpful.
The project has long-term interest to an emerging group of
educators seeking to understand classroom culture, with hopes
of helping teachers create better learning environments. But
her work has more immediate implications here in California.
Students who hope to graduate from high school are now required
to pass algebra, a notoriously difficult subject. That's made
a good number of students - and adults with long memories
- cringe. And educators across the state are hoping group
work will help meet the challenge.
"We don't have nearly enough understanding about what
is going on in these groups, or how to make them more effective
in teaching," Stone says.
So Stone sits and watches groups of students at work. Her
camera catches them on videotape. Wireless microphones capture
the conversations. And she pulls students aside for individual
If she can find additional grant funding, Stone plans to expand
her analysis to other types of classes and even to playgrounds
and the neighborhoods in which students live. She envisions
a small army of graduate students doing the same type of fieldwork
she's now doing.
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