“Help! My child doesn’t understand algebra! How can they possibly move up to geometry??”
If your child is in algebra right now, how do you KNOW if they are ready for geometry?
Other than proofs, which is a different beast to battle, the issue that causes the most frustration and impacts grades the most is a weak algebra background.
Kids usually understand geometric concepts and know how to set up the problems, but make errors when solving the correct equations they wrote down.
But how do you know what they need to review? How do you know what they really learned in algebra?
Tip 1: Flip the Script – Think SKILLS, Not Grades
A student with an “A” in algebra might ready for geometry, but they might not be. Grades in most math classes are an average of points earned on different items – most graded for accuracy, some not.
So let’s talk about skills instead of grades. We need to know which algebra skills your child needs to review before taking geometry.
You could ask them what they want to review. Some will be able to tell you, but most algebra students can’t remember specific skills they did not learn.
They might even answer with “homework” or “tests” because those are things they think they need to fix because those are the items that are graded – not the skills I’m talking about here.
Other students might say “everything”, but that’s not true either, unless they never attended class.
There are usually a few fundamental skills that were not learned, and those learning gaps negatively impacted learning new skills later. Once a learning gap is closed, a student can learn the later skills quickly and catch up.
As a parent you already know my next point – grades can be misleading.
A student who learned all the skills can get a low grade if they didn’t turn in their work or missed an exam.
And a good grade could have been inflated by completed assignments that were scored on effort, but learning gaps existed, undiagnosed, and didn’t show up until a quiz or an exam was taken – and then it’s too late. Class moves on. Those little black holes just sit there, grow, and make everything that comes up in class later seem harder.
(And that’s why a lot of wonderfully intelligent, creative people decide they can’t learn math. I digress. That’s another topic for another day.)
If your child didn’t fully learn a needed skill, or if over the summer break they forget the skills they did learn, geometry class may be more difficult than it needs to be.
We need to help them find those skills, learn them, then review the skills that came up later.
TIP 2: Make a List of Skills to Review
Not every skill taught in algebra will be needed in geometry. (The algebra skills taught that are NOT used in geometry will come up again in upper level math courses.)
Where to start? I’ve created a list of 32 pre-algebra and algebra skills new geometry students need to be able to do and uploaded the list to my Resource Library.
But even with this list in hand, they may not know what the topics on the list mean.
So here is how to proceed…
If your child doesn’t have access to a textbook, skip to Tip 3.
If your child has a textbook, ask your student to follow these steps to create their list for themselves…
- Bring the book home (Hahaha! I know. But if you’re parent of a teen, you know they might forget.)
- Look up the topics on the list in the index in the back.
- Find the topic in the text. Read through the book examples, look at the practice problems at the end of the section, and do a few.
- Decide which box to check for that skill: “Didn’t Learn It“, “Maybe?”, “Totally got this!”
- Repeat this process for each skill listed.
Tip 3: Find Alternate Resources
Armed with a list of skills to learn, students can now efficiently set goals and make a plan for how to learn those skills.
- Ask for specific help from their current math teacher or use tutoring offered at their school. Teachers usually have office hours and some schools offer walk-in tutoring at lunch or after school.
- Use YouTube to search for videos of other teachers explaining those types of problems.
- Students can form study groups. They can work together in person or work together online using Messenger or another communication platform.
- Retake algebra in summer school. Your child needs to see their school counselor about that right away. Summer school classes fill up quickly. This option is best for credit recovery. This is NOT the best option if your child earned their algebra credit and you want their review to be individualized, targeted, and convenient.
Tip 4: Set aside review time for these skills
Families are busy. Students are busy. But this needs to happen, so move it up on the priority list.
Think of this like working out. It’s an extra thing that needs to happen. It needs to happen consistently, but it doesn’t need to take a long time.
Only 15 minutes per skill might be enough for most of those skills. Some skills will need more time, that’s true. But not all. Trust me on this. I’ve seen it. You’ll be surprised by how quickly some skills move from the “Didn’t Learn It” to the “Totally Got This!” category.
A dedicated* half hour would knock a couple skills off the list each session.
*Dedicated = Adult-level focusing (not “teenager-focusing”) No texting. No games. No casual video-watching, etc.
My suggestion is to schedule this review time to happen on weekends, allowing your student to focus on daily homework assignments on school nights.
In addition to catching up on missed math skills, your student will also learn how to…
- set a goal
- make a plan to reach that goal
- practice self-discipline to work towards the goal
- become more self-aware about their learning in when in math class and self-advocate right away to prevent learning gaps (ie. they will figure out how to tell when they need help before an exam)
Bonus Tip: Hire a tutor
If the skill list is long, or if your student feels overwhelmed by the idea of reviewing on their own, an experienced, caring tutor will provide instruction, encouragement, accountability, and structure for these review sessions.
Think of it as hiring a personal trainer when, as a busy person with a full plate of “adulting”, you still have personal fitness goals. You know those appointments with your trainer will help you reach your goals without having to do the background research yourself. When you arrive at the gym, your trainer has a plan. All you have to do is show up and do what they ask you to do.
In person tutoring is probably available in your area. Your child’s school or district office may have information.
Obviously, I’d like you to consider online tutoring because, well, I’m an online tutor. But I believe in it’s value and future impact on education so much that I’m retiring from the classroom early to do this fulltime.
I’ve seen kids turn everything around in math as soon as they were educated as an individual, not as one of many in a room.
Online tutoring is accessible and convenient, plus you have the flexibility of finding someone who will be the best tutor for your child, not just the closest.
An online tutor works with a student live, one-to-one, and also has access to more resources than an in person tutor. For more information about how online tutoring works, click here.
Resources to Help
In the Resource Library, you’ll find that PDF list of pre-algebra and algebra skills I shared with you earlier. But once you are in there, you will have exclusive access to all the free resources, including a geometry refresher class for parents that covers common mistakes kids make.
Online Geometry Jump Start Class Starts Soon!
I have a live, online, geometry jump-start class that started on Monday, July 30, 2018. Click here for more information.