Strategies for Teaching Algebra

Louise Gaugran
Killarney Centre

As part of Maths Week last term, NALA recently presented a highly informative and interesting inservice lecture on how to effectively teach algebra to adults.

Although I am not currently teaching algebra to any of my learners, I welcomed the opportunity that NALA provided for my own professional development by holding this inservice in Tralee and so I was delighted to get a place on the course. I really didn’t know what to expect and certainly questioned my own ability to keep up with the lecture as English is my first love while maths…well, I usually leave that up to my 11 year old in-house mathematician extraordinaire!

I needn’t have worried. Presented by Lecturer in Maths Education, Niamh O’Meara, the morning was filled with a little crucial theory and a lot of hands on, fun mathematics. Yes, I said ‘fun’ mathematics!!

Niamh had prepared reams of excellent, authentic material for us to work on in pairs and small groups and made the experience for us truly interesting and manageable. She taught us, for example, that the best way to teach Algebra is by demonstrating how it can be used in the real world. We were tasked with creating algebraic expressions and equations using authentic material such as GAA and rugby scores and celebrity ages and were treated to some highly entertaining Maths Magic along the way.

In addition to teaching us the basics of algebra, Niamh crucially gave us some great teaching tips as well. She used, for example, flash cards rather than worksheets to get us matching algebraic expressions with their simplified form. This is something that I will definitely adapt to use with my learners who are working on basic maths concepts as a more fun and kinaesthetic way of learning than simply filling out worksheets.

Copies of some of the games and worksheets Niamh used with us is on the website and I would encourage you to take a look as there is some really great stuff there. More than that though, I think the greatest learning for me from this experience was to embrace whatever learning opportunities come our way as, while algebra isn’t on my teaching radar at the moment maybe one day it will be, and I’ll be ready for it now when it does! And, what’s more, everything I learned in that room can be adapted to improve and inform my teaching skills at all levels of maths going forward. So, thank you NALA!