The origins of The Algebra Project began in the home of Robert Moses. Moses had been a math teacher in the United States and in Africa prior to settling with his family in Cambridge, MA in the 1970s. After the family settled in Cambridge, Moses gave his four children daily math assignments to supplement any math homework they had received in school. The children did this extra work begrudgingly.

In 1982 Maisha, Moses' oldest daughter, was enrolled in the eighth grade of the open program of a local public school, the Martin Luther King. She began to complain to her father about learning math at school and at home. She complained that she already knew the math she was doing in school and didn't want to study algebra at home with her father. Moses decided that the only way to get Maisha to learn algebra was to have her do it in school. He talked to Maisha's teacher and she approved his plan for teaching his daughter algebra during the regular math class. At the teacher's suggestion, he took on three other students who were interested in learning algebra. Thus the Algebra Project was born with a class of four students who sat in a corner of the classroom and were taught algebra by Moses. That spring, Maisha and two of the other students became the first students in the history of the King school to take and pass the citywide algebra test. When Maisha and these two students went on to their local high school Cambridge Rindge and Latin they studied geometry and other college preparatory math courses.

The Algebra Project had just been started and already it had completed one of its main goals: to make it possible for students to take college math prep courses in high school. Prior to the initiation of The Algebra Project, only a small percentage of students from the Martin Luther King, mostly white upper class students, were eligible to take these math courses. Moses did not restrict his work to the most capable students. He took a particular interest in the students who were struggling with math or those who didn't think that they could do math.