# surviving algebra and beyond

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I've enrolled my eldest in a cyber school. They have tested him into Honors Alg 1 as a 6th grader. I am concerned 1) because we didn't quite finish pre-algebra last year but I can deal with that in the time we have left and 2) I know that he makes silly errors all over the place and struggles to get A's on saxon tests.

We are trying to figure out the source of the silly errors. We know he has trouble copying and we are seeing a vision therapist for an eval next week. But he definitely has executive function issues and is just ploddingly slow at his work. Putting him into pre-algebra really isn't an option for reasons too long to explain, but if he does struggle badly in the first 3 weeks, they will move him down.

So here's my question: Considering the fundamental importance of math at this level in future math success, what is the most important thing I can do to insure this rush forward does not create issues we can not undo?

For example, is the most important thing to keep on top of reviewing computational skills from pre-algebra? or worrying whether the abstract stuff is making sense in algebra?

Thanks! Brownie

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So here's my question: Considering the fundamental importance of math at this level in future math success, what is the most important thing I can do to insure this rush forward does not create issues we can not undo?

For example, is the most important thing to keep on top of reviewing computational skills from pre-algebra? or worrying whether the abstract stuff is making sense in algebra?

Both. He should be solid in arithmetic with integers and fractions before starting algebra. If he is not, I would make a big effort to get him up to speed on fractions. "Prealgebra" is really nothing but this arithmetic.

One main problem of students who struggle with algebra is, IMO, that they do not understand the concepts, but memorize each algorithm for each slightly different type of problem. Which is impossible to retain in the long run. Make sure he absolutely understands the WHY of every single step the does. There is really nothing complicated about algebra - the basic idea is to view the equation as a balanced scale where you must do the same thing on each side to retain the balance, i.e. the equal sign.

I would not be too concerned about copying and silly mistakes. Both my kids went through such a phase at that same age; maturity will help with this. One situation where these careless mistakes were extremely frequent were signs; expanding parentheses expressions, and such. A nice trick is to use colored pencil for the plus and minus signs. Also, writing on graph paper helps greatly. Insist that he write neatly, with equal signs aligned underneath each other; this will help him make fewer mistakes. Just practice, and patience.

Rushing algebra is not good, but I understand that you have no choice. I'd give it a try; my son very successfully studied algebra in 6th grade. You have plenty of time to cement his skills.

Good luck.

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The careless errors may actually get better if the work is more challenging. I think upper elementary (math level, not age) is a hard time for that because there is so much computation required, but the actual difficulty level is not high.

Heather

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Make sure that your ds understands the importance of checking his answers in algebra. Ideally he should take the answer he gets and plug it into the original problem (not the problem that he copied onto his paper). This should help him to find his own errors.

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My son just finished Algebra I and he is 11. Do not fear we had same issues at beginning of the year. I agree with the previous posters. Highlight or different colors for the negatives. Slowing down to verify transcription errors have not occurred. (Don't know how many times his answer was wrong, and he check and re-checked his work without verifying he wrote the problem correctly from the book.:glare:)

Make sure he understand the concepts and can explain them. Most algebra programs are going to have a good review of those later pre-algebra concepts. Make sure you devote enough time to homework and study. I had a checklist on my son's desk for those mistakes he makes regularly. Before he asks for help, he has to have gone through his list of his "issues" to see if it was a silly mistake and not a concept issue. Make a list for yourself to see where the errors are occurring, you will see a trend and those are the areas to concentrate on.

Algebra I is a time when they will learn a lot of maturity. I am amazed how much growth occurred. So do not panic and talk regularly with your son's teacher. I know those on-line academies are a lot of work and time intensive.

Good luck and remember he is only in 6th grade and doing the work of a 8/9th grader. Although he has the intelligence for advanced math; he may still have only the physical capabilities of a typical 11/12 year old. So if he is slow it may be because of that, and he is totally normal. I find if my son is slow and sluggish, getting a snack and taking a quick break can be very helpful. Also finding the time of day his brain is functioning the best can reduce some of those silly mistakes.

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Thanks for the advice. I think I will make a list and post it on the wall!

He is strong in fractions, etc...

It was exponents and linear equations we didn't quite get to though we're trying to cover them now. His understanding is excellent...he doesn't memorize algorithms. However he is very visual and will look at a problem and declare he knows the answer without doing the work. He's right about 1/2 the time...a good success rate considering that I as an engineer cannot do the problems in my head but a bad success rate for passing a class :glare:

Fortunately this is a class specifically for advanced middle school students and the intent is that the quantity of work will reflect that. I expect most of the students will be 6th and 7th graders like him. Unfortunately he had trouble getting saxon done in under 2 hours a day.

Thanks again! some great advice! Brownie

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It was exponents and linear equations we didn't quite get to though we're trying to cover them now.

Linear equations is actually algebra. they will certainly cover these extensively in the course.

Unfortunately he had trouble getting saxon done in under 2 hours a day.

That can simply mean that Saxon was a poor fit for him. It certainly was for us- the incremental spiral and the tons of repetition did not work well for my kids who prefer a mastery based method and get the concept easily.

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I have an advanced math student who makes more careless errors than I would like. The biggest problems is that he does too much in his head. It would save him time if he wrote everything but he doesn't seem to understand that no matter how many times I say it!. He knows all the why's and can see problems from many different angles. But in all that seeing the whole problem instantly, the little details like writing a "6" instead of a "9" get lost. He had a big problem with that a couple of years ago. So what I did was give him less problems. I'd give him just a few problems and tell him that if he got them 100% correct, then he was done for the day. My son should not be in Pre-Algebra or a lower course. He's done all those and understood them easily. We had a couple tough spots where we had to slow down due to careless errors. But slowing down is not stopping.

My son is in 4th grade and doing Algebra, but it's homeschooled, AoPS, so I have the luxury of taking my time. If you want to give him extra practice, check out Alcumus. It's part of AoPS and is free. It asked the student math questions and then they get points. You can sign up as Pre-Algebra if you want review. I find my son pays MUCH more attention to detail when he does it on the computer. There's just something so final about hitting that enter key. Doing Alcumus has helped him pay attention to his work better. We still have some to go though!

*I would let your child do Alg I if his computation is down and understanding. By having it down, I mean that he understands it completely and his careless errors are a result of rushing or not paying close enough attention - not that he can't do computation easily.

Linear equations are in Algebra. The basic 3X + 2 = 7 should be down but it's fine if he doesn't have the more complex ones down yet. For exponents, he should understand the basics, like what 3^5 means. ODS did not do opporations with exponents and variables in Pre-Algebra, since it wasn't covered in his book but AoPS assumed the student had learned them. (We switched curriculums and hadn't do AoPS Pre-Alg). It took just a few minutes to go over the rules with him and he was set. AoPS did review them and go into greater detail so that helped reinforce.

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Both. He should be solid in arithmetic with integers and fractions before starting algebra. If he is not, I would make a big effort to get him up to speed on fractions. "Prealgebra" is really nothing but this arithmetic.

One main problem of students who struggle with algebra is, IMO, that they do not understand the concepts, but memorize each algorithm for each slightly different type of problem. Which is impossible to retain in the long run. Make sure he absolutely understands the WHY of every single step the does. There is really nothing complicated about algebra - the basic idea is to view the equation as a balanced scale where you must do the same thing on each side to retain the balance, i.e. the equal sign.

I would not be too concerned about copying and silly mistakes. Both my kids went through such a phase at that same age; maturity will help with this. One situation where these careless mistakes were extremely frequent were signs; expanding parentheses expressions, and such. A nice trick is to use colored pencil for the plus and minus signs. Also, writing on graph paper helps greatly. Insist that he write neatly, with equal signs aligned underneath each other; this will help him make fewer mistakes. Just practice, and patience.

Rushing algebra is not good, but I understand that you have no choice. I'd give it a try; my son very successfully studied algebra in 6th grade. You have plenty of time to cement his skills.

Good luck.

Thank you for the suggestion of using different colored ink, I also have a VSL kid and while they understand what they are doing they make a lot of careless calculation errors and I know adding when she should subtract is a common one for us. She KNOWS what she should do when asked but she doesn't because she ignored the sign.

We use a dry erase board, any thoughts on how to turn that into graph paper? Perm marker?

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