I’d call this article, about how doubling the time students spent studying algebra led them to do better in math and also reading and writing(!) a case of burying the lead.

Why? Before anyone rushes to double the lengths of all algebra classes, make sure you read into the article, where Cortes, a researcher following the kids in the “doubled algebra” classes, considers why they work.

“And we said, why is this?” Cortes recalls. “So we looked at how the classes were being taught. The first algebra class is a typical lecture-style class, but the second class is designed to be more interactive. The teachers would break the students up into groups and have them discuss problems and write on the board. So they were learning math, but they were also learning how to read and write in the context of algebra.”

And there you have it. It wasn’t twice as much as they were getting before. It was something qualitatively different. What we’re seeing here is a description of a mixed approach to math, including lecture, group problem sessions, presentations, and class discussions. Any maybe that takes twice as long to do well, but it’s not much of a surprise that it will work better, make the math more meaningful, and have rippling positive effects.

An interesting question would be, what was the outcome for kids who took just the second session, and skipped the lecture?

When I read that article, that was exactly the first question I had. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that students whose practice in an math course comes only from homework, or in limited snippets in a lecture based course, isn’t going to learn as much as someone who has less lecture and more time to think.

Thinking is where learning occurs.

“Thinking is where learning occurs.” So elegantly put. Our goal as educators, then, should be to get kids thinking, and everything else–lecture, discussions, classroom activities, homework, etc–should be used to get kids thinking, and not as an end in and of itself.