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News from Mathnasium of Cathedral Heights

Three Key Skills for Algebra Success

Nov 21, 2018

What is Algebra?

Algebra is the part of our mathematical studies that teaches us how to solve for an unknown value.  This unknown value is known as a variable, which is denoted with a symbol (commonly a letter). Therefore, when your teachers ask you to “solve for x,” what they are really asking you to do is to find the unknown quantity in a problem.

Taking an Algebra course may seem like an intimidating endeavor, but your success can be boosted by having a strong foundation of three key mathematical skills: Multiplication Facts, Fractions, and Integers.

Multiplication Facts

A strong foundation in your multiplication tables will help make your work more efficient and less frustrating.  While it is easy to think a calculator can solve those problems for you, it may not be the most effective method.  A calculator cannot check your answer for reasonableness. You need to be able to determine if your answer makes sense in the context of the problem.  A calculator also cannot think critically for you. At the heart of Algebra is strengthening your problem solving abilities. While calculators and technology can be useful, we need to be careful to not become too dependent on them and thus causing our own abilities to weaken.

Fractions

Fractions exist in our daily lives -- a quarter past the hour, half of a tank of gas, 5/8" wrench, 3/4 cup of sugar.  However, it is a common theme among students to develop this mystery around fractions as something scary and confusing.  We want to avoid having students skip over problems without even attempting them simply because they contain a fraction. If we can help students break down this barrier they have created between themselves and fractions, their confidence in their own abilities will increase.  

Integers

We find integers, positive and negative whole numbers, everywhere in Algebra.  When operating with integers, students tend to ask, “Do I need to add or subtract?” and “Is the answer positive or negative?”  This can occur because students have memorized certain rules with dealing with integer operations instead of fully understanding the concept of positive and negative numbers.  If students can grasp the idea of moving left or right on a number line depending on the sign of a number, they will be able to better determine the answers to those two questions on their own.

By strengthening these three areas of mathematics, students will be better prepared for their Algebra class and beyond.