Why Can Some Kids Struggle With Algebra?

May 11, 2018 | Brunswick

We’ve asked algebra teachers what skills they wish their students were better at coming into an Algebra class? Their answers were always the same 3 skills: Multiplication facts, Fractions, and Integers.  So why some kids develop gaps in these 3 areas over the years? And you'd be surprized, much of this is during later elementary school years. Even if your kid was getting As, their foundation for Algebra may not have been strong enough... 

  • Multiplication facts – Most kids just don’t know them well enough. They’ve learned a song or jingle to help them count up by instead of just learning an individual multiplication fact.  This makes them always have to take the long counting route to come up with the answer.  If they get off on their counting along the way, they end up at the wrong answer.  Since Algebra has so much multiplication in it, the faster they can pull the facts from memory, the more efficient and less frustrating the work is going to be. At this point, kids are also now able to use calculators, so they start to get out of practice on their basic skills.  They lose the ability to check the reasonableness of the answer given by the calculator.  In fact, there are many area of Algebra where calculators cannot help.
  • Fractions - In all of math, fractions are the skill that most kids lack. Usually when a fraction shows up in a problem, there is no quick review given to remind students how to do it. In fact, we see many students skip the problems that contain fractions. The problem is, most of your daily life contains fractions: 1/2 tank of gas, 5/8" wrench, 3/4 cup of sugar. Our kids need to feel comfortable with fractions, so they can function as adults.  For more information on why kids struggle with fractions, visit our fractions page.
  • Integers – Positives and Negatives. The two questions we are asked all the time are, “Do I add or subtract?” and, “Is the answer positive or negative?” If you depend on remembering the rules, you will probably get something backwards. Instead, if you think of the number line as a ladder, it makes more sense. If 0 is ground level,  we go up (Get bigger) when we add and go down  (get smaller) when we subtract. It also helps to remember that a negative sign just means we are doing the opposite.  Now an integer problem becomes a series of three questions:
  • Where do we start?
  • Which direction are we going? (are we getting bigger or smaller)
  • By how much?

So, let’s say we are trying to figure out -3 + -4. We start at -3. Then we need to add, which usually means we get bigger. But we are adding a negative number, so we do the opposite. This means we are actually getting smaller by 4, so we end up at -7. (See the graphic for example)

The fact is – unless your child has a solid foundation in these skills and confidence in their ability, they will struggle in Algebra and beyond or not do as good as their potential. The skills and concepts are only going to build and become more complex, so making sure they know what they are doing now will set them up for success.

Building confidence is one of the primary goals of Mathnasium. The prime focus of  Mathnasium is teaching concepts. As Larry Martinek, the founder of Mathnasium, likes to point out, it is very easy to forget something you have memorized, but nearly impossible to forget a concept you truly understand. As a student begins to understand concepts, anxiety lessens and confidence rises. Many of our instructors who teach higher math courses have themselves been high school teachers or aced their higher Math course during college coursework. 

If your child has the potential to be in advanced Math placement for the upcoming school year or you want to ensure any gaps are identified and plugged before it is too late to catch up,  contact us at 732 708 4697 or email [email protected]. Winter is the right time when students have more time available with Fall sports out of the way and end of year tests still some time away, so they can focus on building a solid foundation. 

Call Now (732) 708-4697 and Let's Get Started!

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