The secret teachings in Algebra revealed

Think of math in terms of two skills that complement each other – math computation and math reasoning.
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Aug. 14, 2012 - PRLog -- Dear Dr. Fournier:

My son continuously talks about how he hates algebra. He says he is stupid in math and that’s all there is to it. I try and justify the need to learn Algebra with him, but I can’t.  I hated it too, and as I have grown older I have never been able to understand the value in learning math beyond the arithmetic spectrum unless you are interested in it.  What does the average citizen use algebra for?  Nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning higher mathematics, but I don’t see the value in forcing those who are not interested in a career involving that stuff to try and gut through it.

Mike P.
Eureka, CA

Dear Mike:

I understand your logic.  Part of the problem lies in the fact that schools spend too little time in emphasizing the overarching concepts that accompany the learning of Algebra and above.


Think of math in terms of two skills that complement each other – math computation and math reasoning. Computation requires your son to know math facts and processes accurately and to be able to retrieve this information with such speed that he is not even conscious of what he is doing.

Many people believe that computation is the “easy part” of math because they mistakenly confuse it with simple memorization. If a student gets the answer wrong, it’s easy to assume that the mistake is “careless.” The solution is then to chastise the child and tell him to try harder. Math reasoning requires your son to be able to look at a problem and know what process to use to get the correct response. In addition, through reasoning your son should be able to look at his answers and immediately know if it is within plausible boundaries.

Many people consider reasoning to be the “hard part” of math because it has to do with logic and comprehension of concepts. Therefore, if a student gets it wrong, it is easy to assume that the mistake is because of a lack of knowledge. The solution is usually thought to be tutoring. Unfortunately, as logical as this sounds, it is not true for all children. I have seen many students who have excellent reasoning skills but have not mastered their basic math processes or facts. These students generally fall into one of two categories.

The first is a teaching problem, not a learning problem. Students are often taught math facts and processes for a test, not for a lifetime. When the students pass one test, the teacher assumes that learning has been accomplished. But if a student misses the same material on a subsequent test, then the assumption is that he is being “careless” or not paying attention. When a student can retrieve information correctly at one time and not another, our assumption of mastery is usually false.  The student has not achieved mastery or real learning. More teaching is needed.

The second is an output problem, usually when a student is developmentally delayed in the skill of automaticity – the ability to retrieve quickly and accurately the sequences basic to reading, writing, and/or math. No matter how often the basic math facts and processes are taught and practiced, the student still makes errors when he must retrieve the information quickly, such as on a timed test. This is a long-term problem that will exist in the child no matter how quickly or slowly the curriculum goes.

In either case, if a child has a strength in math reasoning, then he must continue to develop those skills and not be held up because of computation.

Talk to your son’s teacher and ask that he be allowed to use a calculator so that he can develop his analytical skills and begin to appreciate his ability and capacity in the subject. By having access to a calculator, your son can do math while adding to his math learning.

There are a few “ground rules” for using the calculator.

The calculator must be used for ALL math calculations – even the simple ones – because no one has been able to determine which facts or processes your son has not yet mastered.
The entire calculation processes must be written down. Your son must set up his problems in the same format as other students and be expected to write the problem out without missing a step. Procedure and sequence must be identical every time. The goal is to help your son make a process automatic on paper, which will become the mental process he uses later in life.

Using a calculator is just once step to help restore your son’s self-confidence in math. Once your son can overcome any misconceptions about his ability in math, then you can work with his teacher to determine the reason for lack of mastery – whether through lack of teaching or an output delay. Then you can develop correct strategies to continue your son’s success in math, and through that success he will begin to manifest the computation and reasoning that will pay dividends for him in his adult life.


Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at  HYPERLINK ""
Source:Dr. Yvonne Fournier
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