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Students failing their first course of Algebra

  1. Apr 5, 2016 #51
    That's all they teach in 10th grade...
    How to count. They figured out that I knew how to count up to 1,000 (they only required 500) and how to count down to -500 (which they didn't require until 5th grade) and let me move right into 1st grade math.

    I'm pretty sure that anyone who can write inteligent things on PF has had a very similar experience and would find my school system to have unnecessarily low standards and bad curriculum (especially general 7th grade science. Oh man, you all would hate that).
  2. Apr 5, 2016 #52


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    Well at least I'm going to start abstract algebra soon. Yeah, baby! Most of pre-calc is just teaching how to read graphs (what is the limit of this sine function? how do you find domain?), which isn't bad, though.
    My 7th grade science was Life Science. You know, like the organelles within a cell, basic anatomy, reproduction, etc. That was a lot of knew stuff for me, and I really liked it . . .

    . . . but then come 8th grade, I got a Physical Science textbook that was so basic, it devoted an entire chapter on "What is an atom?"
  3. Apr 5, 2016 #53


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    Should I confess that this is the first time I've heard that tangent and cotangent have anything to do with tangent lines? o:)

    Yup, one learns something new everyday! :biggrin:
  4. Apr 5, 2016 #54
    That's our 7th grade science. We had what is an atom, how to read the periodic table (we spent 2 weeks on that) and F=ma took another 2 weeks a little later. Earlier that year we spent at least a month or two (I am not exaggerating) on unit conversions within the metric system (like from grams to kilograms). I thought my teacher got the worksheets out of a second grade science book.
  5. Apr 6, 2016 #55


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    To be fair, most average second graders now are only just learning multiplication, so teaching math-based science (like F=ma) is probably too much. But, yeah, that sounds pretty bad! A month on unit conversions when it could've been tackled in less than a day . . .
  6. Apr 6, 2016 #56
    Unit conversions should be repeated time and time again. A lot can be deduced just from the units.
    More important is to teach students how to use units as a heuristic way to check their results.

    Ideally one would spiral back to units every time a new "unit" is treated. (mechanics, gas laws, ...)
  7. Apr 6, 2016 #57


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    The entire focus of an entire class should not be devoted to unit conversion for over a month, though. Units are used all the time, so regardless on the specific subject, students will constantly be practicing it anyway.
  8. Apr 6, 2016 #58


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    The actual lesson on how to convert is not difficult at all and I believe that that could be tackled in a day.
  9. Apr 6, 2016 #59
    A month can mean a lot of things. So does a day, you can hammer at it for 8 hours straight or just mean half an hour.
    In what's called "technical education" in Belgium students that are learning a trade (woodwork, electrical installations etc) students have 1 hour of physics a week (50 min hours at that).
    While a month is still a lot I think 2 weeks (=2 periods) wouldn't be overdoing it. Of course you have to ground it in applications for example converting metric wrench sizes to inches and vice versa to show they aren't interchangeable.

    The point I'm trying to make is that not all students are very comfortable with these kind of things. A cliché example are the units of area.
  10. Apr 6, 2016 #60


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    point taken :)

    @Isaac0427 how long is one class period for you?
  11. Apr 6, 2016 #61
    1 hour.

    By the way, the worksheets were all on unit conversions, and we got 20-30 problems a day that looked like this:

    10 kilograms=_____ grams
    3 centimeters=_____ kilometers
  12. Apr 6, 2016 #62


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    So that's just being drilled . . .
  13. Apr 6, 2016 #63
    True, but some people still didn't get it, so the teacher kept on teaching us the same lesson.

    But going back to the topic of the thread, the moral of the story about 7th grade science is that everyone has different needs, however only serving the needs of those who need more is not the right thing to do. What I did love about 7th grade science is that later in the year the teacher let me do an independent project on chemistry and physics. So, I tonight myself field theory. Naturally, being in 7th grade, I got it all wrong, but without doing that I could not have been where I am now, and I'm pretty sure I've got most of it. Self studying math completely (without help) is a horrible idea, but what I'm trying to say is that students need to be brought to their level, and not brought down to where the average to lower student is.
  14. Apr 6, 2016 #64


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    Easy to say that, but in reality, you WILL find some students who are very confused about unit conversions, lesson singular or plural, irregardless of familiar ratios or unfamiliar ratios for conversions. (but to be honest, I had seen that difficulty mostly in students who never passed an Algebra 1 course).
  15. Oct 12, 2016 #65


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    Generalizations about American education are difficult to get correct in my opinion. America is very diverse, and very accommodating to people of all backgrounds. When I graduated from a PhD program I had possibilities of teaching in Oregon, New York, North Carolina, and Georgia. By then I had taught in Utah, and Washington, (and later taught in North Carolina). I chose Georgia because it was near my home where my aged mother lived, and they offered me what sounded at the time like a better position. I was stunned by the low level of preparation of my students there, compared to those in Washington and Utah, but if I had chosen a position say at Columbia in New York, assuming it had materialized, I might now be raving about the high level of the stiudents' preparation.

    I don't know much about Belgium but I have recently read some studies about the different levels of high school programs available and not all (BSO?) are academically oriented. Moreover it is not clear that immigrants, even second generation ones, achieve the same level of academic progress there as do native born citizens and their children. In the US we sort of throw everybody in the same classroom, often until college, and regardless of interest or natural bent, and the results admittedly are quite mixed.

    I suspect we in the US have much to learn from many other more successful countries, but we may have perhaps different challenges. One person who has excelled at helping students who were failing begin to succeed is Uri Treisman, Reading his essays has given me some insight as to maybe why I failed so miserably in my first attempt at college.

    I went from a weak high school background in the southern US to a strong college in the north. I was used to being the best and being surrounded by low achieving peers. So I dismissed all attempts by the school to offer tutoring and help, and avoided studying together with my fellows. This was disastrous in a college where the other students were actually much stronger than I was and could have helped me enormously. The good news was that the college was used to this phenomenon and did not give up on me and other such strugglers right away, but gave us a second chance.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  16. Nov 30, 2016 #66
    I think it is unrealistic and unfair to students to expect them to all meet a universal standard. I like the German system in which there is tracking from a young age, because in most cases it is not hard to figure out how difficult an academic program a young person can succeed in. In Germany so far as I know they still use the three-track system, plus a 4th track for those who have special needs. I think the results of the German system speak for themselves. Put a kid into an educational track he or she can do well in, and everyone is better off.
    Concerning algebra, in my opinion not only algebra but geometry and even some types of arithmetic are beyond some students, while a few will find these subjects very easy. Most are somewhere in the middle of that particular curve. I'm not sure how we could change this.

    According to this New York Times article, failure in algebra class is reported as the number one reason for dropping out of high school.

    Last edited: Nov 30, 2016
  17. Dec 1, 2016 #67

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    I agree. In my teaching days, I encountered students who made an effort, but just couldn't do algebra. Those were rare cases in the general population of students, but they do occur. A frustrating aspect of teaching such students is that they often can learn rote procedures, but get completely lost when when you explain things using even moderately sophisticated reasoning.

    Society's problem with educational standards is complicated. A person is required to attain requirement X. But perhaps he can do job Y without being able to do X. And yet perhaps the ability to do X correlates with his ability to do job Y even though it isn't a component of job Y. Employer's needing job Y want X to be a requirement because it makes it easier for them to identify people who can do job Y.
  18. Dec 16, 2016 #68
    This year I have privately tutored a Grad 9 student for maybe 10 hours just to pass one test and give him a sense of accomplishment. Another Year 11 student went from treating algebra as hieroglyphics to getting 75% in physics.

    These at-risk students often need intensive tutoring that I can not give in a class of 25.

    In Australia there is, along with textbooks and pracs that are used across the country. There is no point in duplicating curriculum in different localities.

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