The Development of a Passion

When Bob was a child, he had a toy balance scale. The scale came with large, individual, plastic pieces in the shape of the numerals from 1 through 9. They must have had weights inside them, for he found if he placed the plastic 7 on one side of the balance and the plastic 5 and the plastic 2 on the other side, the scale would balance. If the numbers did not add up, the scale would not balance.

Bob was fascinated! – wondering, “How does that work?” It was also the dawn of realizing how the symbols for numbers connected with something in the real world.

Math continued to fascinate Bob as he grew up. “My big brother – two years older – was always showing me the math stuff that he was doing in his classes. Math was cool.”

In college, Bob drifted from his love of math, as he developed a deep interest in what made kids really tick – what built them and what tore them down. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Macalester College in Early Childhood Learning. After graduation, he worked as a teacher in Head Start and then as a camp counselor for the YMCA.

From there he moved into business for several years, working as a restaurant cook and then in sales. But all this while, he never lost his interest in teaching and training, or his love of working with kids, or his enjoyment of math.

This is where some great advice from Bob’s wife Sarah came in to play.  She said, “Bob, there are two things in this world that make your eyes light up.  Find a way to make a living doing one of them.”  This inspired Bob to pursue his passion for math, kids, and teaching in a way that would impact kids in the way he knew math could – in ways like he had been impacted and inspired.

At this point, Bob decided to return to more undergraduate work at the University of Minnesota to earn his teaching credentials. After two years of coursework, Bob began teaching secondary math in the St. Paul Public Schools.

The Novice Teacher

bob-hazenBob started his teaching career at the junior high level, where he found something that shocked him – “I was blown away by how many kids just coming into 7th grade who were already turned off to math.”

Because he loved math and believed in its value for all learning, Bob looked for reasons why so many kids struggled to embrace math.  He came to realize that part of the problem was that math was too often poorly taught in the years before junior high school.

“Math instruction in the elementary years tends to be so book-focused and so heavily rule-driven,” Bob said to himself one day. He knew from research that far too many elementary school teachers – by their own admission – didn’t feel confident teaching elementary arithmetic. And also far too often, elementary math was taught and learned largely as a collection of a lot of rules.

The problem with teaching mostly rules is that they are usually presented in disconnected isolation from each other. Bob realized that this disconnected isolation of one rule after another after another fails to portray math with any connectedness. Too often, math instruction fails to provide a backbone, a framework, a scaffolding that would show what he always intuitively and experientially knew: that math already is connected and unified.

However, almost no students, and few adults, and not enough teachers know of such a frame that would help reveal the connectedness of math. They lacked that framework of unifying things that would remain both true and helpful across grades and across topics – things upon which students could hang, connect, and relate the many and various facts, skills, concepts, and procedures that they learn over years and years of math.

The Novice Teacher Gets Curious

It was at this point in his career that Bob realized he had a huge curiosity.

The curiosity was related to the lack of a framework for all those math rules that kids were taught. If math is already unified and connected, what were those connections? What helped him see the unity between different topics in math – the unity that so many kids and adults didn’t see? What helped him as a fan of mathematics make connections that others didn’t make?

This was Bob’s curiosity: what things – what ideas – what … stuff – helped show how math was already connected and unified?

After thinking this over for a while, Bob’s curiosities became an expectant statement: there surely must be things “out there” that would help people understand math better. By “things” he wasn’t thinking of contrived memorization devices or artificial one-time tricks or advice like “Show kids that math works in the real world.” He was looking for practical, broad ideas, useful principles, sensible insights, common sense connections, and down-to-earth notions that would reveal the connectedness in math that was already there.

The Turning Point

hazen_robertAbout that same time, Bob learned of a workshop on a methodology that claimed that he could teach algebra to kids as young as 5 years of age.  So Bob took his son Brandon (who was five and half at the time) to a demonstration of this method.  “We sat in the front row of a room of 40 or 50 people, hoping that the presenter would see this youngster and demonstrate how a five-year-old can do algebra. Well, that’s exactly what happened – and 45 minutes later, my son was doing algebraic factoring.”

“This is when it hit me,” Bob says. “Instead of doing 6 years of arithmetic, kids could start doing algebra from day one. Maybe that approach would help kids see the connectedness of math – and prevent kids from getting turned off to math.”

The “Pieces” Come Together

Bob started using this methodology in his 7th and 8th grade classes, and he also worked with some homeschool families who had more academic elbow-room to do math differently and creatively without system-wide restrictions.

At first, Bob thought the power of this methodology was found in the math manipulative pieces that he was using from the demonstration with his 5 year old son.  But over time, Bob came to realize that, although math manipulatives are very helpful, they are not the key element that helps children get a good grip on algebra.

He began to realize that there was something more powerful than the manipulatives. He found that there really were some broad and practical ideas – he started calling them “principles” – that revealed the unity of math.

Over the years, Bob has identified a half dozen overarching principles that make algebra – and all of arithmetic – become a fun, rewarding learning experience for kids.  As Bob says, “These principles help to reveal the unity of math in ways that cross grade levels and topics. Kids who learn these principles in early elementary grades during our program will find that these principles still work in upper elementary math. And they also work in pre-algebra, in algebra, in geometry, in trigonometry, in calculus – and even in the sciences as well.”

Camps & Technology

Bob at campAs a result of his work of doing algebra with young kids, Bob and Sarah Hazen created the Summer Algebra Institute camps in 1995 through his business, Algebra for Kids LLC.  The success of these camps and the raving response from both kids and parents pushed Bob and Sarah to look outside the bounds of geography by using the internet.

Now they offer an online program called “Algebra For Breakfast” – the online version of the Summer Algebra Institute.  Algebra For Breakfast is laid out in such a way as to take the immersion style of learning offered through the summer camps and deliver the content  through the tremendously effective, fun,  and convenient incremental learning method, with hands-on activities, music, manipulatives, and games.

Bob Hazen’s Resume Credentials

1995 M.Ed., Mathematics Education: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
1988 B.S. cum laude, Mathematics Education: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
1974 B.A. cum laude, Early Childhood Learning: Macalester College, St. Paul, MN.

1999-present Mathematics Teacher: Mounds View School District (Mounds View High School), Arden Hills, MN.
1988-99 Mathematics Teacher: St. Paul Public Schools: Johnson High School • Hazel Park Academy • Saturn School • Cleveland Junior High.

2000-2005 Advanced Algebra Tutor: YEAH Academy; Roseville, MN.
1995-2000 Adjunct Faculty:

  • Augsburg College Education Department; Minneapolis, MN; 1995-2000.
  • Hamline University Graduate School; St. Paul, MN; 1999.

1995- Founder & Director: SAI: the Summer Algebra Institute ( a week long, half-day enrichment program teaching hands-on algebra to students in grades 3-8).
1993-94 Project Director: the Chelsea Math Initiative (a pilot project using algebra, manipulatives, & music to teach math to regular first grade students in a traditional elementary school setting); St. Paul, MN.
1990-95 Mathematics Teacher (summer programs): Science Museum Minnesota; St. Paul, MN.
1989-90 Mathematics Instructor: Inroads, Inc. (pre-college mathematics curriculum for high school minority students); St. Paul, MN.
1988-89 Mathematics Instructor: Un Primer Paso Summer Institute (Hispanic girls); College of St. Catherine; St. Paul, MN.
1988-95 Mathematics Coach: Cleveland Junior High (1988-91); Saturn School (1991-95); St. Paul, MN.
1975-76 Senior Staff Counselor: YMCA Family Camp Du Nord; Ely, MN.
1974-75 Head Start Teacher: Ramsey Action Programs; St. Paul, MN.

1999-present Invited Speaker: various home school groups; Twin Cities, MN.
1993-97 Invited Speaker: NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) Conferences:

  • Durango (CO) Regional; October 1993;
  • Bismarck Regional; March 1994;
  • Omaha Regional; October 1994;
  • Chicago Regional; March 1995;
  • Grand Rapids (MI) Regional; October 1995;
  • Minneapolis National; March 1997.

1991-94 Invited Speaker: Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Annual Conferences; Brainerd, MN.
1993-1999 Invited Speaker: MACHE Annual Homeschool Convention; St. Paul, MN; Rochester, MN.
1992 Invited Instructor: Summer Algebra Workshop, St. Paul Public Schools; St. Paul, MN.
1992 Invited Speaker: “Hands-On Math for the 21st Century,” Mankato State University Mathematics Club; Mankato, MN.

2011- Founder & Host, Algebra For Breakfast online algebra program.
1999-2003 Web Forum Host, “Math Experts” forum, Practical Homeschooling Webpage.
1998 Author (self-published):

  • Keeping Math Connected and Sensible: Practical Principles to Unify Math Across Grades & Topics.
  • Math Games to Supplement Any Mathematics Curriculum.
  • I Miss My First Grade Algebra.

1996-1999 Columnist, “Principled Mathematics,” Practical Homeschooling Magazine; Fenton, MO.
1995- News feature subject: “Summer + Algebra = Fun,” KARE-11 Television 5:00 news on the Summer Algebra Institute; July 25, 1995; August 7, 1996; June 17, 1997.
1995 “How We Used Algebra, Calculus, Music & Manipulatives to Teach First Grade Math,” Minnesota Mathematics Magazine; premier issue, Winter 1995.
1994 Contributing Consultant: Liafail Multimedia Literacy Solutions; Edina, MN.
1990- Master Trainer: the V.J. Mortensen Math Company; Coeur D’Alene, ID.
1990- Founder and Co-Director: Mathematics Enrichment Resource Center; St. Paul, MN.
1990- Host Teacher Finalist: Kentucky Educational Television (KET) Adult Education Pre-GED Series; Lexington, KY.
1989-1993 Mathematics Teacher: Hotline for Homework; St. Paul, MN.