Algebra is one of those issues. Students have a stigma about it. They believe the hype presented by their peers. The buildup is that algebra is hard. To kids, that means either painful or impossible, both of which could be untrue. Kids don’t think for two seconds that another kid’s defeat can’t make him an authority when they’re in the same boat. They start discrediting themselves based on someone else’s situation instead of believing in their history of successes. In other words, they made it this far, so how bad could it really be?
Changes Happen to Everyone
They let themselves be stumped by change. Between shifting hormones and peer pressure, they can be misled. Some are easily persuaded. That’s why they all have parents.
Parents are proof that difficulties eventually pass. They’re kids that made it all the way to adulthood. Despite hard lessons, disliked teachers, hateful homework, and useless courses like algebra, they thrived. Clearly, it wasn’t the end of the world.
Look for Clues
They don’t realize the similarities between new subjects and old ones. There is a pattern that they don’t see. Gifted or perceptive kids may identify it. Otherwise, it takes experience or age to reveal it. That means parents are more likely to notice the blueprint. They passed middle school and at least part of high school. They survived. As such, they fit into the scenario with knowledge they didn’t realize they possessed.
The first time a kid sees a percent symbol, what does he or she think of it? It’s a new concept. What about the first time they discover that lower case “x” is also the sign for multiplication? A third example would be how the slash in a fraction also translates to division.
Actually, algebra just looks different from the math they’ve learned up to that point. It’s not even that. In reality, it’s just introduced in an unfamiliar form. Isn’t everything that they haven’t already learned? Fear of the unknown is common in children. School is a large part of their lives.
On the Bright Side…
There is good news. The algebra they fear and magnify on a paranoid pedestal has been in their lives since the first grade. Here are some examples:
1 + __ = 5 __ – 8 = 3 2 + □ = 6
1. It was algebra then. It’s algebra now. It just wasn’t called algebra. Every math problem with a missing number is algebraic. That’s the truth even when it isn’t mentioned.
2. This pattern continues into third grade when multiplication and division are introduced.
2 x __ = 12
12 ÷ 2 = __
3. In fourth or fifth grade, it’s part of fractions, percents, and decimals when converting from one to another.
50% = ½ = ___
Express as a decimal.
4. “Word problem” means “real life application of algebra principles without using the term ‘algebra’.”
A yard is 37 feet wide and 21 feet long.
How much sod is needed to landscape it?
5. Area, volume, and perimeter use algebra. They are included in geometry, the course after algebra. How many times have students been given such math before middle school?
By the time students take pre-algebra, they have been exposed enough to succeed before taking Algebra I. That’s because they’ve been taking it all along. Now both you and they can relax a bit.