In some households, math is a four-letter word. It is the subject that students most often get behind in and need the summer months to catch up. However, with a strategic plan and an understanding of the many options available, a path to success is negotiable.
Getting ready for high school math
We had several subjects that fell by the wayside in grade school and high school at our house, but math wasn’t one of them. Studying the math lesson for the day was on par with brushing teeth: Is your math done? Are your teeth brushed? This approach is essential because it is an uphill battle trying to catch up in math.
We continued through the same curriculum from kindergarten through sixth, adding different approaches to learning the concepts, like manipulatives, games (one of the favorite and most effective methods at our house), flashcards (not a fan), and physical activities, like measuring in the kitchen, and hopping from number to number as they counted or added and subtracted. A tool that we found very effective to introduce the concepts of algebra was Borenson Hands-On Equations.
One time I jumped to the latest fad in homeschooling math, and my student who loved math fell into tears within a couple of days. I quickly returned to our original curriculum and dumped the fad.
8 to 10 Problems
Math in middle school and junior high should take about an hour and a half each day: learning the lesson, reviewing through the examples, and then working 8 – 10 problems. Additional homework and review can be accomplished using games and other techniques (try Khan Academy for review).
Did you just say 8 – 10 problems a day? But our curriculum has 45 problems! That doesn’t mean that your student needs to do them all (no wonder she hates math). Choose 8 – 10 problems that cover the different portions of the lesson. Then she should rework the ones she got wrong. If she still doesn’t understand the concepts, choose 8 – 10 different problems for the next day. That way she sits on that lesson another day to make sure she understands the concepts before moving on to the next lesson.
Stepping into high school math should be like turning the next page in a book, so develop a plan to getting there:
- Show that you value math by making it a priority each day, working with your student, investing time and/or money into additional materials to teach concepts that your current curriculum isn’t addressing in a way that your student understands.
- Talk positively about math. Don’t make it sound like a mountain that can’t be climbed or bring up images of your own childhood math-nightmare.
- Celebrate success. Moving forward in math should be celebrated: take a day off from math to play math strategy games and give special recognition at dinner (with ice cream).
What math does a student need for college?
Most colleges want to see three years of math in high school, but for highly selective colleges and for science and engineering majors, four years of math is essential, two being algebra, and one being geometry. These classes are typically taken in this order, but there is some flexibility:
The Federal government created financial incentives for school districts to require Algebra I in 8th grade in order to try to get US students’ math and science test scores caught up with the rest of the world. This puts students on the track to finishing Calculus I by the time they graduate from high school. As you can imagine, this doesn’t mean that all 8th graders are grasping the concepts of Algebra I, but this has become the new standard.
Why is Geometry in between Algebra I and II?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to take the algebra classes consecutively? Geometry is taken in between Algebra I and Algebra II because most students are not ready developmentally for the more difficult concepts in Algebra II. By taking geometry first, students have a better chance of succeeding in Algebra II because their brains are more developmentally mature. Also, geometry uses concepts from Algebra I but not from Algebra II. Additionally, the progression from Algebra II to pre-calculus is more important than between the two levels of algebra, so having those two classes consecutively is advantageous. Another reason to slip geometry in after Algebra I is because the student will need geometry on the ACT tests.
This method worked well in our family. As each student completed Algebra I, we assessed their readiness for Algebra II and decided to slip a year of geometry in first.
But won’t they forget all the Algebra I during that year in geometry? The textbook publishers realize this dilemma and provide review of the algebra concepts in the geometry book and then again at the beginning of the Algebra II book.
Another Day has Come and Gone and I still haven’t used Algebra
Math teaches people to think in different and creative ways to connect areas of knowledge in order to solve problems. Higher education doesn’t focus on teaching specific skills, but rather on developing tools for solving problems so that going forward into the workplace, graduates can solve the wide variety of problems they will face every day. Developing the tools of mathematics in high school and college is like packing the right tools for a surprise adventure of a lifetime.