A good number of math students here at The Tutoring Center came to us during a critical butcommon time in their academic careers: the shift from their earlier math classes to Pre-Algebraor Algebra 1. What is it about these classes that trip up even the brightest students? Simply put,it’s a shift in thinking.

Algebra is widely considered the gateway to upper level mathematics as it stands at the borderbetween concrete calculation and abstract problem-solving. For the most part, up until this pointstudents have dealt with straightforward values and operations—memorizing math facts andlearning to calculate the values of given numbers. Algebra deals with finding unknown variablesand the underlying logic that goes into most mathematical thinking. Students suddenly findthemselves going from “What is 308 x 20?” to “What is the value of z if z x 20 = 6160?”

This kind of abstract thinking is usually absent from elementary math, something that manyeducational professionals are trying to rectify through Common Core—to varying degrees, ofcourse. While some claim that young minds haven’t developed enough to grasp algebraicthinking, math teachers have started to experiment with introducing basic concepts to get theirstudents comfortable with using the “tools” well before their first Algebra class. Here are a fewkey lessons:

- Expand upon the equal sign: In algebra, the equal sign (=) is used to balance an equation,rather than the sign to produce an answer. Getting your kids familiar with this concept canease their transition.
- Introduce letters: Start slipping in a few letters when solving word problems. Let your childchoose the letters he/she prefers at first, allowing him/her to get used to seeing and workingwith variables.
- Talk through math problems: Choose a problem and have your child explain how he/shesolved it. This lets your child think critically about mathematical logic, gaining awareness thatmath is more than “plugging and chugging” through equations.

If you feel your student needs more in-depth guidance to help them bridge the Algebra gap,please don’t hesitate to contact The Tutoring Center! Our math tutors are standing by to help!

Resources:

Pappano, Laura. "The Algebra Problem: How to Elicit Algebraic Thinking inStudents before Eighth Grade." Harvard Education Letter 28.May/June 2012(2012). Harvard Education Letter. Harvard Education Publishing Group. Web. 10Dec. 2014. <http://hepg.org/hel-home/issues/28_3/helarticle/the-algebraproblem_533#home>

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