Reshape Students’ Academic Identities. Transform the Algebra Classroom Culture. Improve Achievement.

A collaboration between the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin and Agile Mind

Research shows that efforts to improve academic outcomes must address both students and the culture of their learning environment. It also shows that relatively modest interventions can have a powerful, positive effect.

The Academic Youth Development program supports the successful transition of students into Algebra I, particularly those moving from middle school to high school mathematics. In addition to mathematics instruction, AYD changes how students understand intelligence—and their own ability to achieve. And AYD drives a cultural change in the classroom by creating cohorts of student allies who share their ideas and engagement with other students.

Students change.

"Now I understand the difference between what I used to call difficult and what's just new."

Central to the AYD program is helping students understand that intelligence is malleable, not fixed. AYD incorporates ideas from social psychology regarding effective effort, attribution of effort, and the significance to academic success of interpersonal skills, a sense of belonging, and motivation. AYD draws on neuroscience research to show students how their brains physically change as they learn.

Teachers change.

"When I started the program, I thought that if you're good at math, you're gifted. Because I have better knowledge of what it takes to be successful, I feel every kid can be successful."

AYD transforms the way teachers approach their students and their teaching practices and it can transform their beliefs about the potential of each student. The summer experience provides a low-risk space and strategies to engage and motivate all students. During the school year, teachers can apply these strategies across their algebra classrooms.

Classrooms change.

"I have four sections in Algebra, and my class management is now a no-brainer. My AYD students are the leaders in my classroom now. My classroom culture has improved drastically."

AYD goes beyond individual students and transforms Algebra I classrooms. It does so by creating student leaders with skills and information to share with their peers, thus improving the learning culture—and outcomes.

The program gives students and teachers an explicit set of tools and strategies for applying these ideas in Algebra I classrooms and in daily learning. In addition to providing social and cognitive learning curricula, AYD also provides mathematics instruction that solidifies students' understanding of problem solving, proportionality, and the use of multiple representations—connecting the students’ previous learning with what they will experience in their first year of algebra.

AYD offers:

  • Engaging, comprehensive curriculum to help students learn
  • Interactive animations of key concepts that deepen student understanding
  • Explorations and investigations that show students the power of the mathematical and psychological concepts they are learning
  • Embedded formative assessments that help teachers manage instructional improvements
  • Convenient review materials for students to use in the summer and school year


"It gives you a head start before your freshman year . . . It's fun."

During the summer, 30 students participate in a 3-week experience co-led by two teachers—the relaxed pace and design of the program create a special teaching and learning experience that leads to strong gains in achievement.


  • Learn that their brains grow when they work to solve problems
  • Build relationships with peers and with their future Algebra I teacher
  • Learn and apply strategies for effective effort
  • Develop effective two-way communication strategies
  • Gain expertise in key problem-solving strategies they will need during Algebra I

School Year

"The brain growth concepts really stuck with students. The other day a student shook his head and said, 'I'm growing dendrites and getting smarter.'"

School year curriculum enables students and teachers to apply what they learned during the summer, and—most importantly—supports students' emerging aspirations for high achievement.


  • Revisit the key ideas and strategies they learned during the summer
  • Apply their learning to increase the success of their Algebra I class
  • Strengthen relationships with peers and teachers during regular meetings
  • Support their classmates by sharing ideas and strategies


Students report changes in attitudes and beliefs:

  • Higher self-confidence and greater feeling of support from peers and teachers
  • Greater motivation and persistence—being more likely to not give up when frustrated or when working on particularly challenging math problems
  • Increased use of metacognitive learning strategies that benefit achievement, like the purposeful selection of approaches to problem solving
  • Understanding that with hard work and effort, they can increase their intelligence and capacity for academic achievement

Teachers report changes in classroom culture:

  • Students taking more responsibility for creating and sustaining a positive learning environment
  • Better student-to-student communication—for example, sharing, talking through ideas, and solving problems together
  • Higher levels of student engagement—even among those who were previously disengaged in school
Download this information in a factsheet (pdf 200kb)
Additional websites about AYD and adolescent learning

AYD Awareness: This site provides an overview of the AYD program, core concepts, supportive research, and preliminary research findings. It includes video clips of AYD students engaged in the program to help illustrate the experience of AYD.

Learning and the Adolescent Mind: This site shares with parents and educators the most compelling knowledge about student learning and success, through the ideas and the research of the most respected leaders and emerging thinkers in the fields of psychology and adolescent education.


The Dana Center's work in Academic Youth Development (AYD) is the creative product of many people's hard work and commitment to bettering the lives of children. The program strategy is a natural evolution of Uri Treisman's work on nurturing high achievement of African American and Latino college math students. It builds as well on the Chicago Public Schools' Step Up to High School program. The current version of AYD is the product of a powerful collaboration of teachers and administrators in Evanston Township High School, the creative team of Agile Mind (our commercial collaborator), and many Dana Center staff members and critical friends. We thank them all and honor their contributions. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge the work of social psychologists Dr. Stacey Rosenkrantz Aronson and Professor Catherine Good, whose research knowledge and creative ideas have been invaluable to our AYD work at many levels, and Professor Joshua Aronson, whose research findings and creative suggestions have found a happy home in the initiative.