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Why Is Algebra Difficult For Many High School Students?

Aug 17, 2007
Algebra is sometimes considered to be the most difficult of all mathematical disciplines to teach. The reasons for this are numerous. First, since algebra is the first truly abstract mathematical subject that most students encounter, the teacher or algebra tutor must not only teach the mechanics of algebra, but must also help the students struggle with the conceptual paradigm shift that one undergoes when transitioning from arithmetic to algebra. While some primary schools have tried to teach arithmetic with an eye towards helping the students handle abstract concepts, the public has been largely unreceptive to such "new math" and, therefore, it seems that traditional arithmetic education is with us to stay and the transition to algebra will continue to be a difficult one. Another reason for the difficulty involved with being an algebra teacher or algebra tutor is that, for most students, their parents had been able to assist with homework and studying up to this point but, quite often, adults have forgotten the algebra that they were once taught. Therefore, the student must often, for the first time, learn the subject without parental assistance.

The job of the algebra tutor is to help the student overcome the conceptual and mechanical difficulties that come with learning algebra. Algebra is the first mathematical discipline that uses variables. For the student, all previous math problems had nothing that varied--they were presented with some numbers and an operator (a plus, minus, multiplication, or division sign) and had to come up with the answer. With algebra, the situation is much more subtle. Instead of simply math problems, algebra students are presented with equations. Now the students must not only calculate variables, but they must also determine which operators to use. The algebra tutor must help the student overcome this paradigm shift.

Another problem that the algebra tutor must face is the fact that learning algebra depends entirely upon the student having a firm grip of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. A weakness in any form of arithmetic can make it very difficult or impossible for the student to learn algebra effectively. Therefore, the algebra tutor must be prepared to not only teach algebra, but also provide remedial instruction in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division as well.

The algebra tutor truly has to be a jack of all mathematical trades. The algebra tutor must not only be able to help the student overcome the natural difficulties that are often encountered when transitioning from concrete arithmetic to more abstract mathematics, but he or she must also be able to provide remedial training in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. In order to do the very best job, the algebra tutor must carefully evaluate his or her student before beginning study to determine if remedial instruction will be required.
About the Author
Jane Saeman runs an In-Home Tutoring service called Aim High Tutors. Find out about how to help your student reach their full potential at http://www.aimhightutors.com/blog .
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