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I Know Nothing About Algebra, How Do I Help My Teen?

I am a mom, grandma, wife, and a high school Algebra teacher. I love teaching Algebra, because I like making it understandable.

How Do I Help With My Teen's Algebra Work?

When your teen brings home homework and begs you to help, don't brush them off, just because you aren't a mathematician. Give it a whirl. Many of a student's problems can be simply that the student is missing something in reading the question. Have them re-read it and many times they will get it and say "never mind" because they now understand the question. Surprisingly, reading it out loud can help it click in their brains.

Also, a lot of problems can be found using Google. If you are struggling with a particular one, google it. Chances are that someone somewhere has had the same problem and has shown how to work it out on the internet.

The main point is to be a steady go-to parent for your kids. You need to realize that there is help out there. Parents can help at least direct them to that help online. I am going to provide you with helpful hints, tricks and trusty websites that can help you get through the jungle that we call Algebra.

Word Problems!!!! - The Nightmare of Every Student

Steps to work through

Steps to work through

Break the Problem Into Bite-Sized Pieces

Word problems are definitely not the favorite of students. I battled them in elementary, now, my kids & students battle them. This is not said to discourage, but to let you know that you are NOT alone. I want to help with some basic problem solving techniques to get you through the word/story problems step by step.

Problem Solving must be broken down step-by-step. If you look at the whole thing, read it only once, you WILL be frustrated. I want to help arm you with helpful tools that will help with each and every word problem.

Here is a list of the techniques, (not to worry, I am going to break them each down below individually): Look for Clues, Game Plan, Solve, Reflect.

So, let's see how to do this....

Reading Word Problems

Reading word problems is a little more than just reading and answering. You need to read for information and facts. I suggest that a student reads through the question one time. Then, with a pencil in hand read each phrase. Circle important information like "difference", "more than", "per", "less than". Each phrase has the potential of telling you exactly what to do.

On the other hand, you have to watch out for unnecessary information. Many times a question will be asking about, say, apples and asking the question about apples, but will give information and the amounts of oranges. While reading through the problem phrase by phrase, mark out the fluff --- unnecessary information.

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Pay attention to what the question is ultimately asking. Try not to get bogged down in the vast amount of information or steps to the problem. Take each step one at a time and you will succeed.

Choose a Strategy - How are you going to work it out -- Sort through the information???


What Are Strategies I Can Use To Solve The Problem?

When given word problems, many times you are given quite a bit of information. You must choose a strategy once you have read through it as suggested above.

There are many strategies to use. Here are a few that work well.

  1. Draw a picture! You do not have to be artistic, but represent what is in the problem to simplify it. If it describes the area of a rectangle, jot down a rectangle. Label what you know from the information needed. This gives a visual. Seeing it in a picture helps to work through the information given.
  2. Make a list. Sort the information into a readable list. The more information that is given, you need to organize it. To keep looking back at a wordy description can get you lost in needless details.
  3. Work it backwards. Might sound confusing, but sometimes it is the best way to work a word problem. Take what you know from what is given and see if you can arrive at the problem backwards. If it is multiple choice, try the different choices to see which one may be the correct one.
  4. Find a pattern. Patterns are applied to some problems, but not all. If you see what you think is a pattern, write it out and analyze it.
  5. Write out a number sentence or equation. If the problem is saying 8 less than a number all that means is x - 8. Key words have to be translated from English to Math.
  6. Guess and Check -- when all else fails, this will do. Also, if all else fails, type the word problem into Google. Many times someone has worked a problem out or a similar one. The search engine could just pull up specific help for the actual problem being worked.

It Is Solved! Now Should I Check It?

Work it out and Check it!

After you have read the problem thoroughly, and chosen a strategy, it is time to solve it. When solving it, be sure to show your work. Showing your work helps in many ways. It helps you to see what steps you have taken and allows you to look back to check for errors. It allows the teacher to see the amount of work you have put into the problem and also allows the teacher to give partial credit for a problem. Sometimes simple mistakes can be given partial credit. If my students get a positive and a negative switched or miss dividing on a fraction, as long as I can see their work, I will give some credit for it.

After solving it, be sure to check it. Look back and double check your information and how you arrived at the answer. It is far better to catch an error now and correct it than after it has been graded and you have to correct your missed ones. Just because you solved it does not mean you didn't miss something simple. Checking it will catch those small errors.

“If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.”

— John von Neumann

No Need To Get Frustrated! There Is Help Available

With Algebra and word problems, try to not get overwhelmed. Time and again, I see students and my own children get so frustrated with math or word problems. The math in the word problems has been taught and the student knows. The real feat is getting them to take a breath and work through the word problem, without getting flustered.

Together you and your child can succeed with Algebra and word problems. Remember the strategies and use the internet as a tool to help you.

© 2022 April McMichael

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