In a world where t-shirts say kids are allergic to algebra and low national test scores seem to confirm, the University of Louisiana runs a unique teaching program using a strategy called Hands-On Equations ( ) to train teachers and sponsor algebra competitions where middle school students love and excel in the subject.

Dr. Peter Sheppard, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, wants kids to experience algebra earlier and be excited about it. Thus, he and the University of Louisiana hold annual H.E.A.T. (Hands-on Exposure To Algebraic Topics) Competitions where over 350 kids from 20 middle schools participate.

Hands-on Equations

“We use Hands-On Equations in our teaching and developed H.E.A.T. as a means for teachers to employ this creative instructional strategy in after-school math clubs since curriculum constraints often limit the time teachers can devote to this learning approach in their regular classrooms,” remarked Sheppard.

Sheppard is none too soon using the innovative approach either.

According to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tested fourth and eighth graders in math and reading, national test scores show only 40% of 4th graders and 35% of 8th graders received proficient math scores. Louisiana and other states including California, Tennessee, Alabama and The District of Columbia often rank near the bottom.

“Even in this digital age, kids learn algebra concepts faster and in earlier grades when they use tactile items they can see and touch such as Hands-On Equations. This program uses numbered cubes and pawns as well as a representation of a balance scale to model and solve algebraic equations,” said Sheppard.

Teachers using the Hands-On Equations program ( are thrilled with the results.

“Middle school students have a hard time understanding and grasping algebraic concepts,” says Heather Olson of Edgar Martin Middle School in Lafayette Parish.

“Since I have been using Hands-On Equations, my students love to solve algebraic equations because the approach is like a game. Forty-three students joined our after-school math club. The students understand the representation of the balance on the board, the pawns for the unknown number, and the number cubes for whole numbers. The students are enjoying solving the algebraic equations, especially the extremely long equations,” continued Olson.

The H.E.A.T. project is funded through a grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents, Louisiana Systemic Initiatives Program and the State of Louisiana STEM Goals Office. 

The program provides participating teachers with professional development in algebra instruction. The students involved in H.E.A.T. learn using Hands-On Equations materials in after school programs.  Some 50 undergraduate students will assist in grading the student papers during the competition.

Henry BorensonDr. Henry Borenson, the creator of Hands-On Equations will address teachers and be present at this year’s H.E.A.T. Competition Awards on December 7, 2011 at the Student Union Ballroom of theUniversityofLouisianaatLafayette, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Award ceremonies take place from 12:30 – 1 p.m.

Drs. Sheppard and Borenson are available for media interviews. Email Dr. Sheppard at or call 337-482-1514. Contact Dr. Borenson via Heather Harter at 800-993-6284, 404-925-2840 or

Borenson and Associates, Inc. provide the Making Algebra Child’s play workshop for teachers with students in grades three through nine.  Additionally, they present introductory webinars for parents. Even in the digital age, the hands-on approach to learning algebraic concepts is in high demand, as the company celebrates its 25th year in business. The company is based in Allentown, PA. 

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