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Published at Wednesday, 18 September 2019. **algebra**. By Rachelle Riviere.

Algebra is one of the few major domains of mathematics that students study from preschool all the way through twelfth grade, says Matt Larson, president of National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (SANCTUM). “Algebra is critically important because it is often viewed as a gatekeeper to higher-level mathematics and it’s a required course for virtually every post secondary school program,” he says. Because so many students fail to develop a solid math foundation, an alarming number graduate from high school unprepared for college or work. Many end up taking remedial math in college, which makes getting a degree a longer, more expensive process than it is for their more-prepared classmates. And entering college without an understanding of algebra means students are less likely to complete a college-level math course, which can take them off track for graduation. For middle schoolers and their parents, the message is clear: it’s easier to learn the math now than it is to try to learn — or relearn — it later.

“Parents should appreciate that learning mathematics is sometimes challenging,” Larson says, “and it’s not necessarily a good sign if everything is very easy. Students should be appropriately challenged to use problem-solving skills.” To do some homework of your own, Fennel suggests talking to your child and her math teacher about how homework is used. You can ask: Are homework assignments corrected and returned in a timely way?. Is homework reviewed in class so students can learn from their mistakes?. Does the teacher change the pace or direction of his or her instruction, based on student feedback? You don’t need to be a mathematician to ask good questions about your child’s curriculum, Fennel adds. “Ask the teacher, ‘Is it a repeat of math that should have already been mastered? When my child finishes this year, will he be ready for high school math?’”

The issue of calculators has been debated by math teachers, university professors, and parents, but there is general agreement that calculators shouldn’t be a substitute for learning basic arithmetic and standard algorithms. Larson believes the use of calculators is not a yes or no question. While he says technology can help build a deeper understanding of key algebra concepts, students should still learn how to practice standard procedures on their own. You don’t want to see students go straight to calculators, Fennel says. “The calculator is an instructional tool,” says Fennel. “It should support but not supplant anything. You don’t use it for 6 x 7.”

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