Teaching Algebra Conceptually in Years 9 and 10

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Otago
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2010
Project end date: 
June 2012
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Chris Linsell
Research team members: 
Lynn Tozer, Megan Anakin
Research partners: 
Garry Turner and Eric McAuslan, King’s High School; Rachel Jones and Anna Cox, St Hilda's Collegiate - Dunedin.

Project Description

Many students struggle with introductory algebra and teachers have little to guide them to assist their students learn this important component of mathematics. The project on TAC was designed to explore and create teaching approaches to assist students in years 9 and 10 to develop a conceptual understanding of algebra. The effect of these teaching approaches was documented by use of a diagnostic tool that assessed and made students’ knowledge and strategic thinking in algebra explicit. 

Key findings

  • Achievement in algebra can be enhanced by taking a structural perspective that provides high quality diagnostic assessment information to teachers.
  • Effective teaching approaches that have an effect on student outcomes integrate algebra into the curriculum, rather than treating it as a separate topic.
  • Effective teaching approaches include building a ‘toolbox’ of knowledge and skills that students can use efficiently in their lives.

Major Implications

  • Evidence suggests that the algebra framework positively guides and informs teacher practice.
  • The algebra diagnostic assessment tool measures student achievement, informs teacher practice, and helps identify next teaching steps.
  • Teachers should be supported to recognise and model algebra in many contexts and should not pigeonhole it to a single block of teaching time on its own.

A website has been created to share our findings and to act as a platform for further development of the ideas. Teachers and researchers are invited to visit and contribute.


Project Contact

Dr Chris Linsell
Senior Lecturer in Mathematics
University of  College of Education
PO Box 56
Email chris.linsell@otago.ac.nz

Project Outputs


Presentations, conferences and workshops

Linsell, C., Tozer, L., Anakin, M., Cox, A., Jones, R., McAuslan, E., Smith, D., & Turner, G. (2011). Teaching Algebra Conceptually: Preliminary Findings. Paper presented at the NZARE conference.

Cox, A., Jones, R., McAuslan, E., Smith, D., & Turner, G. (2011). Teaching Algebra Conceptually. Paper presented at the Otago Mathematics Association Annual General Meeting. 

Jones, R., McAuslan, E., Smith, D., & Turner, G. (2011). Teaching Algebra Conceptually Paper presented at the NZAMT 12 conference. 

Linsell, C. (2011). A Diagnostic Tool for Algebraic Thinking. Paper presented at the NZAMT 12 conference.

Linsell, C., & Tozer, L. (2011). Gaps in knowledge: Implications for accelerating learning  Paper presented at the National Learning and Professional Development Conference and Facilitator Training.