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Integrating Algebra And Engineering In The Middle School Classroom

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Enhancing K12 Mathematics Education with Engineering

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.759.1 - 13.759.18



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Paper Authors

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Wendy Huang Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Barbara Brizuela Tufts University

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Peter Wong Tufts University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Integrating Algebra and Engineering in the Middle School Classroom Abstract

The Building Math curricula project was originally titled “Integrating Algebra and Engineering in the Classroom.” It resulted in the development of three middle school instructional units that uniquely integrates inquiry-based mathematics investigations and engineering design challenges. The engineering design challenges provide meaningful and engaging contexts to learn and use mathematics, and to develop students’ teamwork, communication, and manual skills. The mathematics investigations yield useful results to help students make informed design decisions. In particular, special focus was given to the development and use of algebraic reasoning. This paper seeks to answer the questions: “What algebraic learning is evidenced in the student work and classroom videos collected in the pilot studies?” and “How was the engineering design is informed by the mathematics research phase of design challenge?” The major finding claims that when engaged in Building Math design challenges, middle school student at different grade levels use algebraic reasoning when analyzing changing rates of an exponential function, interpret slope in a meaningful context, and use a mathematical model to make reasonable predictions. They then use this understanding to inform their engineering designs to meet the criteria and constraints of the challenge.

Algebra and Engineering

There is widespread consensus that algebra is important as a “gatekeeper” to higher levels of math and careers in science, technology, math, and engineering fields (Moses, 19931; Pelavin & Kane, 19882). Also, prominent organizations such as the National Academy of Engineers and the International Technology Education Association have been calling attention to the need to increase technological literacy for all people, even those who may not enter or are not in quantitative professions. “To take full advantage of the benefits and to recognize, address, or even avoid the pitfalls of technology, Americans must become better stewards of technological change” (Pearson, 20043).

The Building Math project sought to address the demonstrated needs described above by developing activities that integrate algebra and engineering. This was not an easy endeavor, as existing activities tended to emphasize one subject over the other, or require a team of teachers (i.e., technology, science, and math) to coordinate over a fairly lengthy period of time. After several iterations of implementing activities in pilot classrooms, activities that successfully integrated algebra and engineering had these qualities: (1) the activities are embedded in some greater context that makes the design work have a purpose, and (2) the activities make mathematics a necessary means to designing an effective product or process.

For example, in the Amazon Mission unit (consisting of three week-long design challenges that can be done throughout the year), students read a one page introduction that invites students to imagine that they are planning to visit an indigenous people group in the Amazon rainforest.

Huang, W., & Brizuela, B., & Wong, P. (2008, June), Integrating Algebra And Engineering In The Middle School Classroom Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4051

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