Math Education Concepts

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Bridging the Gap Between Arithmetic and Algebra

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I have been teaching college level precalculus for several years.  A running theme of concern has been the lack of preparedness of my students for the course.  The struggling students somehow place into the course, but clearly are not prepared.  My assessment is that the students’ basic algebra skills are weak.  But what happens when a student takes algebra for the first time, but are not prepared?  Why are some students ready for algebra and some students struggle with the basic algebraic concepts covered in Pre-algebra or Algebra 1 courses?  What do you do as a teacher when you are faced with the challenge of bridging the gap between arithmetic and algebra?  How do you incorporate these concepts into your lessons without losing algebra “teaching time?”

This is an issue many Algebra 1 teachers face.  The common concern is that students taking Algebra 1 lack basic arithmetic skills.  But these skills are necessary for success in Algebra 1.  For example, many students struggle with adding fractions.  What happens when those same students have to solve equations with rational expressions?  If they have not mastered adding fractions, they will not be able to solve equations with rational expressions or they will experience difficulty when faced with these problems.

To me the answer is clear… Teach students so that they master basic arithmetic skills before they enter Algebra 1.  This charge is for elementary school teachers.  Here is the reality…  This is not always accomplished.  Elementary school teachers probably have their reasons for why this is not happening, across the board.  In the meantime, students are required to take Algebra 1 with whatever skills they have acquired.  This presents a problem to secondary teachers who have students entering Algebra 1 lacking the basic skills needed to learn and master basic algebra concepts.

How do you bridge that gap as an Algebra 1 teacher?  What does that bridge look like?  How do you help these students without hindering the advancement of the students who were fortunate to have mastered these skills?

These are very valid questions with many valid answers.  What are your thoughts?  What have you done in this situation?

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Author: Math Education Concepts

I am a Co-founder of and Program Coordinator for Math Corps Philadelphia, a combined academic enrichment and mentoring program. I am the author of "Teacher Training Manual: Designed for Secondary Mathematics Teachers of African American Urban Students." I hold a Master of Education degree in Secondary Mathematics and have several years of experience teaching secondary and post-secondary mathematics.

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