Livermore High School

Success Story: Closing the Algebra 1 Achievement Gap

As a teacher of mathematics for the past 28 years, I have to say that this is the best program I have worked with to inspire and focus on most struggling learners in Algebra.

Susan Johnston, Math Teacher, Livermore High School

When I was programming the Linkbots in my Algebra 1 class I forgot that I wasn’t good at math! I was so focused on meeting the challenges that all of a sudden I was doing more math than I have ever done before and I liked it!

A quote from a student attending the class

Algebra 1 has a reputation of being the most difficult math course for middle and high school students nationwide and is considered the gatekeeper for high school graduation and for students pursuing further studies in STEM. In California over 200,000 students in grades 8-11 needed to repeat their first Algebra course during 2008. The collective student enrollment required almost 1,700 full-time Algebra teachers statewide to reteach the course.

Susan Johnston, a physics, mathematics, and engineering teacher at Livermore High School is committed to closing this achievement gap in a district she describes as “diverse with students coming from a variety of backgrounds including migrant education, low socio-economic backgrounds, all the way up to children of high incoming earning scientists and engineers.”

In 2015, with support from her school and district leadership, she taught C-STEM Algebra 1 with Computing and Robotics for a class where “84% of the students were identified as “at-risk” youth with historically low grade point averages below 2.0, extreme attendance issues, very low socio-economic very low socio-economic backgrounds, or identify as a foster or migrant education student. All students in the class previously struggled in learning math.” The school wanted “to give them the best course that integrated mathematics, computing, and hands-on activities through the use of robotics.”

Susan says “From early in the year, an observer could easily tell the students enjoyed the class and were reinvigorated to learn algebra. Intrinsic observations showed students high on enthusiasm from their positive attitude in class, their frequent participation in class and small group discussions, and the time they spent at lunch and afterschool in the classroom gaining additional help or advancing their skills in a self-guided challenge.”

She is very pleased that the students in this class had “a 96% average daily homework completion rate, an 83% average on the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) exam (compared to 68% district wide result using the same exam) at the end of trimester 2, and a course passing rate of 100% with the average course grade of 84%.”

All these students have passed subsequent math courses on Geometry and Algebra 2. All these students, except one, are taking Pre-Calculus in the academic year 2018-2019.

The celebration of her success story continued when her students participated in the Roboplay Challenge Competition on C-STEM Day in May 30, 2016 and won first place at the NorCal Competition and Second Place in the state in Division 2 level. She is proud to share that “this team of once ‘struggling mathematics students’ was also recipients of the “Perseverance Award” by the judging team, as they had developed the skill of keeping at a problem until it was solved – a common core mathematical trait.”

Susan had participated in the C-STEM Trainer Institute to have been certified as a C-STEM trainer  in the LVJUSD so that “we can provide teachers other schools in our district with a cost effective and convenient professional development on how to use and incorporate the C-STEM integrated curriculum with computing and robotics.” District-wide, due in large part to Susan’s success with the program, there are plans underway “to expand the offering of the Algebra 1 with Computing and Robotics course in our high school to our middle schools as well as our continuation high school.”

Susan says that “As a teacher of mathematics for the past 28 years, I have to say that this is the best program I have worked with to inspire and focus on most struggling learners in Algebra.”

4/20/2018, RoboPlay Competiton for learning math, written by  Emma Kristovich, a former Livermore High C-STEM student and current RoboPlay Coordinator for the UC Davis C-STEM Center, a sophomore at UC Davis majoring in Computer Science and Engineering, and a UC Regents Scholar.