What is ‘The Basic Math’ of Algebra?

Home Forums How To Teach Algebra What is ‘The Basic Math’ of Algebra?

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October 21, 2016 at 12:39 pm #348


‘The Basic Math of Algebra’ applies all the basic mathematics your child learned during elementary years (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division – including long division) to algebra in a way that gives her the tools to understand theorems and solve equations.

Why do I teach children to do the basic math of algebra before they ever learn a theorem or solve an equation? It is the same reason that children first learn the alphabet and basic phonics before learning to read: you need to learn fundamental tools first before complex ideas.

The philosophy is not new. Children learned algebra this way for centuries. The method was lost by the time I was in middle school, back in the 1970’s, and the result for me was disastrous. I could not understand what was going on in algebra class. I had been top of my class through all my schooling years, in all the advanced classes. And then I hit middle school algebra. We went straight for solving equations and memorizing theorems and picked up the mechanics of how algebra works haphazardly along the way. That was it for me. I spent hours and hours with the teacher but he could not explain the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of what we were doing other than to ‘follow the formula’. And each additional hour I spent trying to figure out algebra was yet one more hour spent feeling stupider and stupider.

That one class devastated my self-confidence. For many years I was seduced into thinking that it was really an issue of women being under-represented in math and science because my teachers were predominantly men. While I did have a college physics professor once actually tell me that he was amazed I could do the work so well since I was, after all, a woman, I think all that seductive propaganda about women and science and math really does not apply to algebra. But I digress.

The problem was simply that algebra is no longer taught as it once was, and when you use the original teaching method everyone understands and discovers that algebra is easy and really does make sense.

And that is why I teach children algebra by first introducing the subject and its vocabulary, and then by giving them the mathematical tools to make algebra work. The theorems and equation solving comes later when your child can understand them.

And so, by learning ‘The Basic Math of Algebra’ your child will grow up thinking, “Math is easy. What is all the fuss about?”

And won’t that be a wonderful gift to give her?

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