A new approach to personalized learning: Students as authors of their own algebra stories
Candace Walkington

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Southern Methodist University

Primary Discipline

Mathematics Education
Algebra acts as a gatekeeper to many careers and to higher-level mathematics, and students struggle to understand the abstract representations introduced in this course. Concepts from algebra are often not seen as being connected to students’ worlds, including their home and community activities. Exploring ways to connect mathematics to students’ lives, experiences, and unique funds of knowledge is critical to making algebra both accessible and captivating, especially when considering the participation of students from diverse backgrounds. In previous work, I found that students draw upon rich algebraic ways of reasoning when pursuing their out-of-school interests in areas like sports, social networking, and video games, and that making connections to these topics in algebra class can improve long-term understanding of algebraic ideas.In this study, I will implement an intervention where Pre-Algebra students generate personalized connections between concepts they are learning in algebra and their out-of-school interests. Students will author their own “algebra stories” where they describe how linear relationships can approximate things they encounter in their everyday lives. I hypothesize that authoring these stories will elicit students’ interest in the content to be learned, and meaningfully draw upon their funds of knowledge from their home and community lives. My work is unique in that it combines cognitive theories related to activation of prior knowledge with motivational theories related to the development of interest, in order to understand and intervene upon students’ mathematical understanding.Using qualitative and quantitative methods that compare an experimental group to a control group, I will examine how the intervention elicits students’ interest in learning algebra, and promotes a positive outlook towards mathematics. I will look at the impact of the intervention on students’ classroom discussions and on their learning of algebra concepts. This research will reveal ways in which abstract mathematical content can be made more accessible and enhance motivation, especially for students who struggle with mathematics. Personalizing instruction has the potential to improve learning and attitudes in algebra courses that are a key barrier to academic advancement and economic attainment. And through emerging, adaptive technology systems, personalization can in the future be scalable to large groups of students.
About Candace Walkington
Candace Walkington is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University. She received her doctorate in Mathematics Education from University of Texas and completed an IES Postdoctoral Fellowship in Mathematical Thinking, Learning, and Instruction at University of Wisconsin. Her research focuses on how abstract mathematical concepts can become grounded in students’ interests, experiences, and everyday reasoning practices. She is a long-time collaborator with Carnegie Learning and the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, both of whom have supported much of her research. At SMU, she teaches courses for pre-service and in-service teachers related to methods for mathematics and STEM teaching.

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