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!

1 comment:

  1. I had trouble with algebra also, and needed to take a remedial class. There were a lot of other college students in the class and we had a terrific teacher. I actually started to see the "why" of algebra in that class.

    Have you ever heard of discalculia? It is a math disability, but also crosses over into directions and other things. I can see myself in the description.

    This was a good blog, and helpful to other students who may have difficulties with math. Thanks for sharing!