Why Is Algebra a Big Deal?

algebraDoes your child shrug and sigh when he or she hears the word “algebra”? Then he/she is not alone – many kids struggle with algebra and others just don’t know why it’s important to learn it to begin with.

And why is algebra such a big deal anyway? Will kids ever need that knowledge and training?

Absolutely and the Tutoring Club can explain why. The article below was written by the Tutoring Club to help kids and adults understand the value of learning algebra today for success tomorrow!

Why Algebra?

Algebra is the “gatekeeper” that lets people into rewarding careers — and keeps others out.  It is used by photographers, architects, upholsterers and just about everyone in a high-tech career. It is simply a civil right, says Robert Moses, a veteran of the civil rights movement.

Basic algebra is the first in a sequence of higher-level math classes that students need to succeed. Because many students fail to get a solid math foundation, an alarming number of them are graduating from high school unprepared for either college or work. Many are taking remedial math in college, which makes getting a degree a longer, costlier process than it is for their more prepared classmates. And it means they’re less likely to complete a college-level math course. For middle school students and their parents, the message is clear: It’s easier to learn the math now than to try to relearn it later.

What Makes Algebra So Important?

The first year of algebra is the prerequisite for all higher level math: geometry, algebra II, trigonometry and calculus. According to a study by the ACT, students who take algebra I, geometry, algebra II and one additional high-level math course are much more likely to succeed in college math.

Algebra is not just for the college-bound. Students headed straight from high school to the work force will need the same math skills as college freshmen, the ACT found. This ACT study looked at occupations that don’t require a college degree but pay wages high enough to support a family of four. Researchers found that math and reading skill levels required to work as an electrician, plumber or upholsterer were comparable to those needed to succeed in college.

Algebra is, in short, the gateway to success in the 21st century.

What’s more, your child develops abstract reasoning when he makes the transition from concrete arithmetic to the symbolic language of algebra. That helps him become an abstract thinker, a benefit that will carry over into his study of other subjects.

When Should Your Child Take Algebra?

Students typically take algebra in the eighth grade. The benefit of starting the sequence of high-level math classes in eighth grade is that if your child takes the PSAT as a high school sophomore, she will have completed geometry. By the time she’s ready to take the SAT or ACT as a high school junior, she will have completed a second year of algebra. Both of these college admissions tests have questions based on algebra II.

There’s a growing movement to have students take algebra in seventh grade. That may work well for students who are motivated, mature and prepared to tackle it. But many seventh-graders aren’t, math educators say.

“Some kids get turned off of math because they start algebra too early,” says Francis Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the nation’s leading organization of math teachers.

Parents, he said, need to “make sure you ask yourself, ‘Is this move for you or for your child?'”  Fennell recommends talking to your child’s current teacher to help you assess her readiness to advance. The goal is for your child to learn algebra well and keep her engaged in math, not push her through the curriculum as quickly as possible.

Look for Homework Clues

W. Stephen Wilson is a Johns Hopkins math professor who teaches freshman calculus and is a former senior advisor for mathematics in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. He offers this advice to parents trying to evaluate their students’ math instruction:

“If a student isn’t bringing home work that requires lots of manipulation and lots of word problems, then there is probably a problem.”

Fennell suggests talking to your child and the math teacher about how homework is used. You may learn a lot from the answers if you ask:

  • Are homework assignments corrected and returned in a timely way?
  • Is homework reviewed in class so students can learn from their mistakes?
  • Does the teacher change the pace or direction of his instruction, based on the feedback he gets in homework?

You don’t need to be a mathematician to ask good questions about the content of your child’s class, Fennell says. “Ask the teacher ‘What is the math? Is it a repeat of math that should have already been mastered? When my child finishes this year, will he be ready for high school math?'”

Bill Moore directs the Transition Mathematics Project in Washington state, which is working to better prepare students for the transition to college math. He summed up what middle school students need to get out of math this way:

“Students need to have a very solid foundation of basic procedural skills that really make problem-solving more fluid. There’s a fundamental set of stuff that just has to be memorized, and there there’s a sense of numbers, a sense of what’s a reasonable answer. That’s particularly important with the use of calculators. In some cases, in the elementary grades, they’ve been used as a crutch. Students go straight to the calculator and if the calculator says it’s right, then it must be right.”

Look at How Calculators Are Used

Talk to your child’s math teacher about how calculators are used in the classroom. Debate has raged for years over whether students are relying too much on calculators and failing to learn the standard algorithms – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. But there does seem to be general agreement with the view expressed by Fennell that “the calculator is an instructional tool. It should support but not supplant anything. You don’t use it for 6 x 7.”

For more information on algebra or any other subject, contact the experts at the Tutoring Club. They offer kids the advantage they need to excel today and succeed in life.


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Rhonda is the mother of two adult daughters and a grandmother to five wonderful grandchildren – and our only grandmother on staff. She spent 25 years in corporate healthcare managing prenatal and disease management programs. She is the Content Manager for Richmondmom and contributes her expertise as both a mom and grandmother – while sorting out the many opportunities for our valuable advertisers.

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