Sunday, February 28, 2010

Non-traditional Students and Trouble with Algebra

Like most non-traditional college students, I really struggled and had trouble with college algebra. One of the issues I had was that it had not just been too long since taking algebra in high school, it had been too long since I had used much math at all. I discussed this with the introductory algebra teacher, and eventually tried to make the same case for my own students who were having math issues, but the main problem is that colleges will not go back into basic math to help students get to the point that algebra makes sense.

Fortunately, I had homeschooled my son through high school. When he had trouble with algebra, we did a grade level exam and found that he had missed some information from 4th and 6th grade math. Once we went back and addressed those problems, we started with pre-algebra, and he whizzed through all his math courses after that, without much help from mom (since I was not able to do the same work he was doing).

I used his pre-algebra book to relearn fractions, ratios, percentages, review basic multiplication and division, and reacquaint myself with all the stuff you have to learn before doing well with algebra. Because I had worked some with my son while he was learning algebra, my understanding was spotty, but I knew enough to do well on the ACT. I had to pressure my advisor to let me into the introductory algebra class, but will always be grateful I knew myself well enough to insist. I could not have passed algebra without taking the time to work through some pre-algebra work and work through introductory and intermediate algebra.

The textbooks my son used in his high school work, and that I borrowed to help me learn algebra, are available from

College Outline for Pre-Algebra by Alan Wise

College Outline for Introductory Algebra by Alan Wise

College Outline for Intermediate Algebra by Alan Wise

I like these books, because they don’t expect you to understand or know anything. Alan Wise is thorough in his explanations, and the books are not designed to have an instructor helping you understand the material, unlike many school textbooks. They have the material for the chapter, then a section on worked problems that explain step by step how to do the problems, then a list of what you need to have learned, followed by a few pages of problems for you to try. At the very end of each chapter are the answers to all problems, so that you can check to see if you correctly did the work.

I can’t recommend these books highly enough. They helped me make it through my college algebra courses with an A in both introductory algebra and intermediate algebra, and a B in college algebra. If you are having trouble with algebra, I believe these books will help in your efforts to pass algebra.

Best wishes for your success!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Untraditional Students: Beyond the Comfort Zone

Every five weeks, I see a new group of students beginning their college careers. Some of these students are traditional students, but most fit into the nontraditional or even untraditional categories. Nontraditional students are usually defined as anyone who has been out of high school for more than six months, or has a family. Untraditional students are usually older adults (meaning out of high school for five or more years), and can be adults returning for second career training.

Some untraditional students may have had college courses before, may even have completed college degrees before, but have been out of college for many years. Even with previous degrees behind them, untraditional students often feel out of place and concerned over their ability to complete the course work. Untraditional students may be in college due to loss of a job and inability to locate comparable work, death of a spouse who supplied the family income, divorce, another life changing event, or may have just decided that it was their turn to get an education. Whatever the reason, untraditional students seem to have strong emotions such as fear of the unknown. They are out of their comfort zone, so to speak, and don't know what to do, how to do it, or even if they can do it.

As an untraditional student who started classes in January 1998 and just never quit going to college, I can relate. One thing to keep in mind when starting something new, however, is something Lou Tice of The Pacific Institute tells his students, "It is OK to be afraid. It is not OK to stay afraid." New experiences can be frightening, but with determination, study, and perseverance, we can make it through the education process to walk across the stage and receive a diploma well earned.

One way Lou Tice recommends to help you do this is to create affirmations. Affirmations are single sentence goals that are always positive and always present tense. "I have accomplished my goal of earning my degree," is a sample affirmation. Make up several affirmations and say them out loud several times every day and you will find that they come true, just because you unconsciously start looking for ways to make them come true. Learning requires students to go beyond their comfort zone. Take a deep breath, settle your nerves, and get started. Come on in--the water is fine.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Scheduling is Everything for Non-Traditional Students

Guest Blog by Susan Elliott

Non-Traditional Student on Campus

Stepping onto a campus, of any size, after several years absence, or for the first time ever, can be a bit overwhelming. Fear is normal. It is also normal to feel like all the younger students are staring at you, and that you will never fit in. Don’t worry. You don’t have to fit in or be popular, this is not high school. You are in college to learn, fulfill your dreams and start anew. Relax, the chances are you will excel in your new environment.

Scheduling is Everything

Before you ever begin a class you have to create your schedule. Many students find this preparation the most confusing time of their school career. Non-traditional students must consider two things when selecting their class schedules, what else is going on in their life, and can they be reasonably sure that they can make it to their classes.

Children, spouses and work all make big impacts on your schedule. Many classes require a lot of outside studying. Can you commit to the hours needed for class preparation, projects and activities? If not, you better select a different class. Some teachers are more lenient towards non-traditional students, but they will still expect your best efforts. If you can’t give them, don’t bother.

Also, consider you time constraints. Do you have to be somewhere every Thursday, does PTO meet on Mondays? What about driving time, carpool? Does the class you’re considering conflict with any of these things? If so, you may want to choose a different class, or make a commitment determining what things you are going to give up during that particular class time. Don’t make these decisions on impulse. Carefully consider all your options before committing to a class.

Confidence Determines Success

The very first day of class the pressure may seem unbearable. Walk into class with your head held high, and with your most inviting smile on your lips. A smile can actually break the tension in the class. There are many students that are just as scared as you are.

Make eye contact with people. This eye contact may actually help you make friends. A person’s response will also help you to decide if he is a possible partner for any group projects that may be assigned during the class.

Notes are Key

On the first day of class you will always have an A. It is your job to keep it. Properly formulated notes can be the key to keeping high marks. Consider what the teacher is saying. You do not have to record everything he says.

If your teacher is fond of telling pointless stories, don’t take write them into your notes. It is a waste of paper, and it will also waste your studying time. Leafing through pages of notes to find a few lines of pertinent information is never fun. Record things that are related to the class or the things that the teacher says will be on the test.

Develop Your Own Note Taking System

Make use of colored pens, highlighters or computer software to keep track of important information. Programs like Microsoft OneNote are perfect for recording notes and important facts. The OneNote program allows the user to create folders for individual classes, as well as daily pages under a class heading.

Remember, you will succeed as a non-traditional student. Be your biggest cheerleader and keep on trucking!