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News from Mathnasium of Ft. Worth West

Middle School Math-Last Chance to Avoid Hitting the Algebra Wall

Aug 1, 2019

Middle school math is usually the last bastion before real grade issues surface in high school math.  The confluence of many factors can mask a real math problem in middle school, which sends parents looking for a middle school math tutor.  It is very important to remember in some schools the constraints associated with teaching math can include the number of children in class, the disproportional attention needed by children that are behind, and the sheer number of math topics covered.  All of this combined precludes the necessary time needed to focus on certain key concepts in middle school math. Therefore, middle school math students are required to do work (not just homework) on their own time, discovering the concepts that support a given math topic. Students generally don’t have the inclination and if they did, they don’t usually have the right tools. Again, this is why parents begin to seek out a middle school math tutor at this time.

The Truth About Middle School Math

We see over and over where students are bringing home and B’s and C’s and parents are completely unaware that their child has serious conceptual gaps that will cause them to hit what we call the “Algebra Wall” when they start high school.  So how can a parent be sure that their student has the necessary conceptual grasp they need to conquer middle school math which will springboard them into a successful high school math run.  

First, it is important to take a little time to understand how your middle school math student will be graded.  The way students are graded often and unintentionally tends to mask middle school math gaps. For example, it is important to know how your student's middle school math teacher applies weights to middle school math homework, tests, quizzes, class participation and projects.  There are a couple of important questions to ask to ensure grading reflects your student’s true ability.  First, make sure you get the actual weights for tests, quizzes, homework and class participation in your student’s middle school math class.   Then get your middle school math teachers’ policy on whether retake of tests quizzes and homework is allowed.  This is important because your student can fail tests and quizzes and move their grade up to a C with a retake and when averaged with homework and class participation your student can pull a B or C. 

Beware of C Grades in Middle School Math

The most dangerous grade in middle school math is a C because those students move on when they are not ready. However, make no mistake that the school and teachers have their heart in the right place, this policy is intended to give every student the chance to learn.  I agree with this for every subject, except math because you can mask the fact that something is missing in your child’s middle school math education. 

Second, parents of middle school math students need to be sure that their students possess more than a cursory understanding, but rather a deep conceptual understanding of fractions, decimals, percent, and reasoning in groups using ratios and probability. In the United States, educators often prefer to spend less time on each so they can cover more middle school math topics as opposed to more time on the key conceptual topics.  This often happens by design as schools are mandated by state and federal guidelines to cover a list of topics each school year.  

Because of this, it is important that parents take periodic biopsies of their students’ conceptual awareness.  This is usually done by someone who is trained and understands the key conceptual concepts and how they work together in supporting learning; this is not done by someone who is just good at math.  When seeking to ensure that a student has taken the necessary steps to achieve conceptual awareness, students should always be evaluated with a written and oral assessment. These assessments should be designed as a legacy assessment. A Legacy assessment includes questions from previous grades that are designed to provide insight into where a potential gap begins.  Trying to fix current grade level gaps without this is usually unsuccessful.  Next, it is important to understand where the student’s fluency sits.  You can look for some of these things at home.  If your student finger counts when doing math, that is a huge red flag.  Also, If your student can’t skip count starting from an odd incremented number.  For example, skip count by 7s starting at 5.  Can your middle school math student take half or a quarter of an odd number like 37 without working it on paper? Fluency and Grade Level Mastery work together in the application of mathematics.

How to Help Your Middle School Math Student

Ok, so you notice some of these in your middle school math student, what do you do?  You need to select a venue that can perform put together a learning plan that focuses on the “Why.” This is important as the “Why” is necessary to hang onto the middle school math topics and carry them through to high school math, ACT/SAT and college.  It is important that your venue also provide the homework help as it helps reduce the stress on a struggling math student, in addition to understanding the precursor topics that are causing the struggle.  For example, reintroducing the conceptual framework around fractions has an immediate impact on middle school math.  Middle school math is often where we see some student get an opportunity to preview Algebra before high school math, this is usually around 8th grade.  Often otherwise great students will begin to shy away from math and science careers because prealgebra can be intimidating when still struggling with foundational topics.  It is important to protect their confidence in middle school math; it can deteriorate quickly after a rough middle school math run.

If you can find an environment that has the right diagnostics, curriculum, and homework-support that is what we consider a good fit for your middle school math student.  For more information about our approach and the science behind our methods, contact one of our Mathnasium Centers in Fort Worth, Willow Park, or Weatherford.