Algebra is something that almost all of us have come into contact within our lives. And whether you like it or not, it’s generally an introduction into the more abstract side of math, as it’s a branch of math that deals with symbols and rules for what you should do with the symbols. It’s generally the first introduction of Latin letters into math, which go beyond just straight numbers. Those letters represent quantities without fixed values, known as variables and in algebra, equations describe relationships between variables. Sitting in a classroom, students sometimes might wonder why in the heck they’re always trying to find x and what it has to do with anything related to real life, but algebra is important for several reasons:

- It allows minds to expand and form new pathways of thinking. This is important not just for mathematical thinking, but for all areas of brain development.
- It’s a skill that moves kids beyond basic math and prepares them for understanding statistics and possibly calculus, if they end up going that far with math.
- It’s historically important (it’s 4,000 years old!) and has been necessary for advancements in civilization, technology and science.

With how important algebra is, why do so many kids struggle in algebra? If you ask us, there are 3 main skills students are lacking in that lead to problems in algebra: integers, multiplication and fractions. Let’s dive deeper into these.

#### Integers

These are whole numbers (not fractions) that can be either positive of negative. Problems with integers usually involve questions: 1. Where do you start? 2. Are you getting larger or smaller? 3. By how much are you getting larger or smaller? Generally, what kids find confusing is the positive/negative part and whether they should add or subtract. We also find that when kids just try to memorize all the rules about integers, it doesn’t work out super well – and that envisioning how they work conceptually is better. If they think of each number line as a ladder where 0 is the ground, they can envision going up the ladder as higher numbers and going down below ground as sub-0 negative numbers. Another trick is to remember that when a negative sign is in front of a number, it means do the opposite of what you would with a positive number.

#### Multiplication

There are not many times in math where we recommend strict memorization. This is because understanding the concept behind*why *kids are doing certain things is much more helpful and better overall for number sense, than just memorization. Multiplication is a little different. While the concept of multiplication (that you are taking x amount of something and copying it over and over) is important for kids to understand, memorizing times tables is a must for kids to move on and be successful in math. Times tables are so important that most of us still have them memorized as adults all the way up to 12! Unfortunately, many children who do move onto to algebra don’t know their times tables well enough and what this means is that they have to count in their head or on paper to come up with multiplication answers. This is ok when students are first learning multiplication – you have to start somewhere and only practice will help them get better at rote memorization – but once kids start doing algebra, multiplication by taking the long route takes a lot of time and also is more prone to error. Algebra has a lot of multiplication in it, so the faster they know facts from memory, the more efficient and less tedious the work will be.

One hint: if your child is using a calculator to do multiplication up to 12, work with them to memorize multiplication. Calculators are a crutch for times tables and there are many areas of Algebra where calculators can’t help. It’s then best to have them in the practice of working without a calculator.

#### Fractions

Despite that fractions show up in every day adult life all the time (think measuring cups, tanks of gas and tools), kids probably struggle the most with fractions. The easiest way to describe a fraction in adult is a number that represents a whole number that has been divided into parts. For example, if you have a cherry pie and you cut it into 4 equal slices, 1 of those slices can be written and represented as 1/4 of the total pie. However, describing fractions to younger people can be tricky. Kids can easily mix up the tops (numerators) and bottoms (denominators) of fractions because they don’t understand the concept of what the whole number means. They then also have problems adding and subtracting them because if they don’t understand that fractions are a part of a whole, finding a common denominator and why you would do that is typically really lost on them.

The good part about what might be missing for algebra success is that your child can get help. A solid math foundation, number sense and numerical fluency is all something they can gain and we can help at Mathnasium of Parker! Call us to schedule an assessment for your child if you have doubts that they are prepped well enough for Algebra and beyond.