Entering high school math can bring up anxiety for both the student and the parent. Algebra, geometry, trigonometry - the course titles are the same, but believe it or not, the way these classes are now taught in school can look a lot different from what you might remember. Here are a few ways to prepare yourself - and, more importantly, your student - for a successful school year:


The best way to support your student as he transitions to these upper-level math courses is to keep an open dialogue with him about it.

"When Common Core came in, it shifted the focus to include an understanding of everything," said AmyLee Kinder, who worked as a math specialist at Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy in Chicago's Humboldt Park last year. "It's more about the process to get there. That's very foreign to how people were taught in the past. It's more about investigative learning and students going through a scenario and understanding a concept completely."

Kinder said students are now asked, "Why do you think that?" and, "Where does that come from?" They are required to explain how they came to the answer, instead of just spitting out a number.

A great way to prepare your student for the classroom is by asking the same types of questions at home.

"Question, question, question," Kinder said. "Stay involved, as hard as it may be. From the teacher's perspective, it takes a team of people to assist these kids, and support outside the classroom is huge."


If your student is nervous about a new math class, try building up his confidence by revisiting basic concepts, such as addition, subtraction and fractions.

"The issues kids face in algebra aren't necessarily about algebra, but a lack of understanding about what a fraction is - things that precede that higher-level class," said Mark Kriston, owner of two Mathnasium learning centers in Chicago.

"Same thing with geometry," he added. "Maybe there is a misconception about what geometry is. Or maybe they feel like it's something that's not really connected to something they've done in the past. They may not see that in younger grades - like first and second grade, when they were working with triangles and shapes - they were doing geometry on a rudimentary level.

"If they were to understand that connection, they would feel more comfortable going forward."

Laura Reber, founder of Chicago Home Tutor, suggests parents check out ixl.com andkhanacademy.com.

"Ixl.com lets you pick a specific problem area," Reber said. "Parents can access 20 problems a day. If a student gets it wrong, it gives them feedback."

"We use these sites to assign practice between our tutoring sessions," she added. "It helps get those foundational skills shored up."


Even if math wasn't your strongest subject, that doesn't mean it can't be a class your student enjoys and may even excel at.

"Parent anxiety is a big issue," said Kriston, who previously taught math at both the high school and college level. "Parents were pretty comfortable helping their kids with sixth-grade math, but when a parent hears algebra, the parent freezes."


Kriston said he's seen parents bring their child to one of his learning centers and the parents will discuss their own frustrations with the subject matter.

"Sometimes it's kind of good news because it means the child's difficulties are coming from this other place. Once we can work with the student to get them to feel more confident and shed that parental baggage, the student does just fine," he said.


It's always good to know when to ask for help. And with more difficult courses that build upon previous concepts, it's probably best for your student to get help sooner, rather than later, if he needs it.

"We don't get calls for tutoring until October or November," Reber said. "That's usually when they've had their first hard test."

But Kinder, who also works as a private math tutor, cautioned: "Once a kid gets behind, it's way harder for them to get caught up." She suggests going over the syllabus with your child as soon as school starts. She said students should be presented with a calendar of what's going to be expected of the class; some teachers will post this information online.

"The more proactive parents can be about getting involved, the better," she said.

Meanwhile, both Mathnasium and Chicago Home Tutor, as well as other learning centers, offer assessments year-round to see where your child's strengths and weaknesses are.

"An assessment is a great way to find out if there is a problem," Kriston said. "The warning signs that are obvious don't show up until it's too late."

He added: "Another warning sign is if your child says they hate math or they hate their subject. Kids do not hate math. They hate being frustrated."