Algebra for everyone? Sometimes I wonder...

Discussion in 'Debate & Marathon Threads Archive' started by atomic, Mar 7, 2010.

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  1. atomic

    atomic Companion

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    I have very mixed feelings with the "Algebra for Everyone" attitude.

    Do I think most students could get it? Yeah...

    Do I think most students will use it after HS? Maybe...

    Do I think most students will use it after College? No...

    I don't use it outside of class, and I'm an algebra teacher. I do use math computations everyday. This is the stuff that has been forgotten in my district.

    I feel I am the only one in my department that wants a student to know their times tables! And don't even get me started on the basic understanding of fractions and decimals...
     
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  3. Hoot Owl

    Hoot Owl Aficionado

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    I agree with you atomic. I'm a fundamentalist and think children must have a foundation to build knowledge on. How can they learn and retain what they've learned if they don't have a foundation from which to build on?

    And... "Algebra for Everyone" is like a blue car for everyone.
     
  4. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I think that algebra teaches problem solving skills, and that's something that almost everyone needs.

    Does my 89 year old mom ever do a problem that begins with "two trains leave Chicago..." Nope.

    But she does know, and need to know, how to approach a problem, how to organize information, how to translate a situation into some sort of mathematical sense. That's the foundation of all I do with my Algebra kids. So, while I agree that all kids need a foundation, I would argue that Algebra IS that foundation for any sort of complex thought.

    But I'm with you on the computation thing. Our kids don't use a calculator until they see Trig functions in Geometry. (My geometry kids saw it a few weeks ago, some of the other teachers haven't seen it yet.)
     
  5. mrsf70

    mrsf70 Companion

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    I see so many middle schoolers who still count on their fingers to add and subtract, never mind decimals and fractions! My 8th grade algebra students still want to freak out over fractions in an equation.

    I do think most students can do it, but it's a time issue, ie, having enough time to work with it, even if that's a couple of years. Do I think all students need it? No way. And in my state, all students must pass the state algebra test to get a diploma. I'm curious to see the graduation rate for this year's freshman class since they are the first to have this requirement.
     
  6. WaterfallLady

    WaterfallLady Enthusiast

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    I teach special education algebra and I am absolutely convinced not all children can do algebra, or even need to do algebra. It seems pointless. I feel terrible because I know they need to do things that matter in their life, like figuring out sales tax or discounts.
     
  7. mrduck12

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    I had an analogy worksheet the other day and my students did not know the definition and the difference between ordinals and cardinals.

    I asked one of our math teachers about this and he said they no longer teach that.

    Where is the fundamental mastery in this?
     
  8. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Those are among the percentage problems we solve algebraicallly.

    Is it right for EVERYONE? No, of course not.

    But is it right for the vast majority of non-special ed kids? I think so.
     
  9. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I feel strongly that algebra should not be required of all students.
     
  10. atomic

    atomic Companion

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    I have a senior that counts on his fingers. Its because the students get calcs in 4th grade. They do two weeks in Sept without them. Then they wonder why in 5th they need to teach computation rules again.

    There's got a be a better way to teach "problem solving skills." I can't understand that argument.

    What about graphing parabolas, simplifying complex rational expressions? There is just no need for this.

    My lowest level students don't care if they know how to take a percentage off at a sale. They trust the register. They don't have the money to spend anyway. One of mine started crying the other day, because I never covered how to use food stamps. Very sad.
     
  11. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    OK, maybe we should define "algebra."

    I agree that not every kid can or should learn how to graph a parabola or simiplify complex rational expressions.

    And I strongly advocate for real basic math education in elementary school. That Senior who counts on his fingers should never have made it out of 4th grade.

    But I think ALL kids, especially the lower level kids, should learn basic problem solving skills. Percent mixture problems? Of course not. But percents? YES! Organizing info, into charts or columns or whatever works for you? YES!

    I think it's entirely possible to EXPOSE kids to basic algebra without requiring the same sort of mastery you would expect of an honors kid.

    The kid with the food stamps? She's right. (Not that you could have known that ahead of time.) But the year's still young-- you COULD do some percent problems that include food stamps, if it's part of your school culture, right?
     
  12. JustMe

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    I think the issue I have is that real basic basic math needs to be taught in elementary, but stressed even more in high school when the students are more likely to need to use it outside of the classroom. And in my experience, this isn't the case.

    And I don't think that a senior in high school should have been retained in fourth grade because he counts on his fingers. I count on my fingers and I function just fine.
     
  13. Ima Teacher

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    I'm not sure everybody needs an advanced algebra class. I teach English, and I use basic algebra fairly regularly. There are all kinds of reasons to need to throw together an algebra problem.

    I made it to Calculus II before ending my math career, but I still count on my fingers a lot. It just helps me keep track, it's not that I don't know HOW to count otherwise. I've never seen what was so evil about finger counting.
     
  14. Jem

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    So here's a point of view from a non-math teacher:

    I did not take pre-Calc or Calc in high school. Math was not my forte, and so I did other things with my schedule.

    When I got to college, I was locked out of my chosen degree because I could not pass their 'entry' math class, which assumed you had taken Calc in high school. So by not being encouraged/pressured/forced to take this math class in high school, I was penalized in college. I can only imagine if I hadn't taken Algebra!!

    I suppose if students are positive they aren't going to college, maybe. But as my mom always said 'Don't close doors before you get to them'.
     
  15. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    post deleted
     
  16. MissCeliaB

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    I think Algebra 1 should be required. Students should know basic problem solving skills and know how to set up very basic equations and solve them. Beyond that, students should take only statistics, probability, and financial math unless they are college bound. College bound students who plan to study science or math in college should continue on to Algebra 2 and beyond. Algebra 2 exists only to prepare students for calculus.
     
  17. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    This reminds me of the movie "Peggy Sue Got Married" when the main character goes back in time to HS and tells her math teacher she knows for a fact that she will never use algebra in her life- funny in a movie, maybe, but not in real life. Algebra is problem solving- and yes, you do use it in your life... critical thinking skills...
     
  18. JustMe

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    But the fact that college requires it just another problem in my opinion.
     
  19. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Algebra demonstrates a student's ability to think critically, to problem solve...:wow: Colleges also require some foreign language experience, a certain amount of science and history...would you question that as well? I don't use much of my French language experiences (and I do have a good background) other than word etymology, spelling and some idiomatic conversational kinds of stuff...but algebra? C'mon...you use the critical thinking skills developed in algebra in all kinds of applications in life...many jobs use math, as an educator you should be able to critically analyze raw data, research studies, assessment results...There are uses of mathematics in all the sciences, and in the 'social sciences' such as economics, psychology, and sociology; engineering and technological fields. Wow.
    Jem, why do you consider yourself a 'non-math' teacher? As an elementary ed teacher you ARE a math teacher, and a reading teacher, and a science teacher, and a history teacher, and a writing teacher....You may not teach it all day as hs teachers do, but elementary teachers lay the foundation on which all other math learning is built.
     
  20. JustMe

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    More so than any other subject, algebra prevents many people from successfully completing college and I find that very unfortunate and unfair.

    Of course I use critical thinking skills nearly every day, but I give no thanks to algebra for that. Algebra wasn't about learning to me; it was about surviving. And survive, I barely did. There are many ways to arrive at the same destination.
     
  21. JoshCHT

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    Speaking of basic computations...

    When I did my Student Teaching (2007-2008 school year) most of the students including the A students could not do basic computations with fractions without calculators. It was very disheartening.

    Calculators are great tools when used properly but a lot of kids are being taught to overly rely on them.
     
  22. TeacherGroupie

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    Is this really a serious claim, that because some people find algebra challenging, it shouldn't be required?

    That makes about as much sense as claiming that, because some people find it difficult to read Shakespeare or write a coherent essay, no one should be required to.

    JustMe, it sounds like the instruction you received in algebra failed, and that grieves me on your behalf - but it seems to me that blaming the subject matter misses the mark.
     
  23. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

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    Okay, anybody that knows me knows I'm not a math person. Here's my 2 cents.

    I still count on my fingers. I don't do that because I used a calculator growing up. I don't remember ever having to practice addition facts and I didn't spend long enough on my multiplication facts. I grasp both concepts so I get through but I DO wish I had a stronger foundation in both. As an adult I realize how important these basics are.

    I am actually pretty good at functional math. Some of that IS an algebra background. I know there is a way to solve it. I know what kinds of computations exist. I know the general concepts. I do not know the actual computations or formulas. It may take me 5 times as long to solve it without it, but I get there because I have learned what's out there and basic general principles in how to think mathematically. I hated algebra. I loved geometry. I don't regret having some algebra training though. I do think it comes in handy. It just may not look like what I did in high school. I may not be able to lay it out on paper and solve for X but I can think through it. IF nothing else, I know it exists and will look up a way to do it online! I do, however, think that some things could have been left off in interest of gaining a better foundation.

    Here's my funny story though. I had to take remedial college level 3 before I could take college algebra. It was actually a much better course than any other algebra class I've ever taken. The funny part though is the teacher had to deal with both me and my friend in the class at the same time. I'm deaf. She's blind. Wow, talking about accommodations! I didn't even have an interpreter! She did great! Sometimes I think part of my problem with math is it always seemed to be the math teachers that were the least able to accommodate my hearing loss. One year I even had an assistive device which required the teacher to wear a microphone. She placed it beside the overhead fan. Another year, the teacher decided that she would only say something once (whether we understood it or not) and you can't ask questions because she'll say to look back at your notes. I didn't have enough strong math teachers to balance out my weakness in it. I can't read lips, read the overhead and copy notes all at the same time. I'm amazed really that my foundation is as good as it is.
    Having said all of that. I do wish I had been offered an accounting and basic financial class in high school but no worries, I took one in college.

    For the record TG (ducking any lemons you might throw), I was not crazy about having to learn to read Shakespeare either. I enjoyed English grammar and writing papers, etc. even if I'm not an expert in either. I just didn't like literature much. I wouldn't go as far as to say it has no purpose though. If you can read that, you can read grad level books and you can critique research articles, etc. It does teach you how to think about an author's intent, your own interpretation of things you read and help one realize that no two people are going to really have the same take on it.
     
  24. JustMe

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    Don't worry, I'm not on a campaign to rid colleges of algebra. But maybe when I retire... :) I kid, I kid.

    My teacher did fail me in a major way, as I think I've discussed here before. He was almost the most pathetic excuse of a teacher I've ever encountered. But with him aside, math isn't just difficult for me; I didn't just have to work three times as hard as the average student. It was horrible. The lengths I went to in attempt to understand...I wanted to understand. Desperately.

    The critical thinking skills attained through algebra by some can be achieved in other math classes which I feel will ultimately benefit students much more than algebra does and will still provide that well-rounded college graduate.

    I don't expect a single other person to agree with me. But I don't think I'm a horrible educator or person for my feelings towards college mandated algebra, although some vibes I'm receiving tell me others may. But that's okay.
     
  25. JoshCHT

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    I've noticed that a lot of people who don't like math, had really horrible math teachers.

    In fact I hated math until high school. I had an excellent algebra I teacher that allowed me to fall in love with mathematics. I went from making bad grades in math in middle school to excelling in high school.

    Good teachers can have a transformative impact, as we all know.

    My 8th grade math teacher was horrible. She used an incremental approach which sounds great because math is an incremental subject. But what she did was use handouts everyday with 60+ problems and every handout featuring every type of problem we had previously learned in the course. Everyday felt like the same day and it made it super boring and repetitive. She wasn't very approachable for students who needed help either.

    Anyways, math teachers have to be patient. When I did Student Teaching I didn't mind repeating a concept as many times as students needed or helping the same students over and over.

    We are there to help the students learn. That is our jobs. Students need math teachers to be patient and affirming and non-condescending.

    A lot of students are intimidated by math and the last thing we need to do is make them more anxious about it.
     
  26. Jem

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    This was posted in a secondary ed section, and I don't want to step on toes. I know that elementary teachers see a very different world than secondary teachers do. You know how Alice was asking for advice on Kira and spelling a while ago because she doesn't teach elementary? That's how I feel about secondary content areas-I would never assume to think like a high school math teacher. So I was giving my point of view as a former 'client' of the system, rather than a teacher of it. ;) Now if you were to ask me if teaching fractions in fifth grade was important..... :p
     
  27. 3Sons

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    TG, you can't honestly tell me you think that claim hasn't been put forth in the past, can you?

    I would soften it from "Algebra for everyone" to "algebra for everyone graduating from high school". There are lots of basics in algebra that just reinforce understanding in math. Ratios and percentages are used in daily life -- every time you use a recipe with differing amounts, or work on your budget, or look at credit card deals or investment possibilities, or have to convert from kilometers to miles or pounds to kilograms.

    It can have an effect on deals, as well. In one mock negotiation session in law school I was dealing with two other opposing students working out a settlement. We came to the decision that on principle some injury should be compensated in a third by one particular party.

    However, when writing out how the third should be applied they put the 1/3 in the wrong place in the formula, giving my side much more than we should have had. Though I recognized the error, I didn't mention it. Had I been on the other side, I would have been able to raise it right away.
     
  28. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

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    Okay, needing it in high school vs. college is a different story for me. In college, it should apply to your major and prepare us for the world. High school is about developing thinking skills. College is too but it becomes more about who we've chosen to become than just a generality.
     
  29. JustMe

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    Yes, if I wasn't clear before, this is exactly my point. At the college level I am paying thousands in tuition towards a specialized degree (though I realize some do for secondary education as well), and I am training for a particular field. Math is important and I use it daily, please don't misundestand me, but the math instruction in college level algebra didn't aid me in learning how to perform the math calculations I am required to complete as a teacher. While I understand the desire to graduate well-rounded individuals and I am thankful for the classes I was forced to take that I would have otherwise not enrolled in, I also think there is much to be said for vocational and technical schools that truly are focused on specialized training.
     
  30. TeacherGroupie

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    A claim can be put forth, but that is not the same as the claim making sense.

    The claim to which I was responding was the claim - which has indeed been advanced here - that a college education need not presuppose some competence in algebra. (I type this while sitting in on a workshop in which topics in math are eating my lunch. This is acutely embarrassing.)
     
  31. WaterfallLady

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    Yes. My students who are taking algebra can do the math, but they can't apply it.
     
  32. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    Absolutely, TG. Even more unfortunately, a senseless claim can be imbued with the appearance of sense.
     
  33. TeacherGroupie

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    For the record: the embarrassment that I noted feeling at the math workshop is at myself and no other.
     
  34. atomic

    atomic Companion

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    No kidding. If the problem contains words, all hands go up.
     
  35. Afrikaisi

    Afrikaisi New Member

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    Wow, I can't believe people don't think that algebra is used after highschool, I use it almost everyday!
     
  36. atomic

    atomic Companion

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    Doing what? I really need some help getting my upper level advanced algebra students to buy into this.

    Piecewise graphing didn't go over too well today.
     
  37. HMM

    HMM Cohort

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    Me too! :D
     
  38. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    Many fields (particularly, virtually the entire financial industry) involve using Excel and therefore, manipulating algebraic formulas. I've seen more than one occasion in which someone had done this poorly, leading to disastrous results.
     
  39. atomic

    atomic Companion

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    We used to use Excel at my school. No its power point that they push all our kids to learn.

    Most of our students join the military.
     
  40. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    I was that kid that said math was useless. I only took up to Precalc in HS and I regretted it. In college I was not prepared for Calculus and later in my career, seeing that my job as a history teacher was not in demand, went back to get a certificate in Math.
     
  41. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I rarely use math beyond addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Every once in a rare while I'll need to figure the price of an item marked at a certain percentage off, but that's about the most complex math problem I deal with. I use Excel in the classroom, but not for any purpose that would require the manipulation of algebraic formulas...at least I don't think so. It's primarily to show students their averages, growth, and so forth.

    How else do you all use algebra nearly each day? Sincere curiosity here. :)

    Note: I would never give students the impression that math isn't important...it is.
     
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