Homeschooling at the Library: Algebra Problems

  • by Maura Muller

    Mathematics., Digital ID 1644946, New York Public LibraryAlgebra Problems. Or should I call them challenges? The past few months have been pretty challenging for both my son who is learning algebra, and for me who has to teach it to him. Once again, the the library comes to the rescue!

    This summer we hit a snag so I turned to the library for assistance. We were doing well with Pre-Algebra in Life of Fred last year when we came to word problems. My son's eyes glazed over. I was losing him. Math was no longer fun. Now it was hard work and he wasn't happy. He also just wasn't "getting it." Word problems were really tough for him and I admit I was never a big fan either. If a train is heading west at 80 miles an hour and a train leaving two hours later is heading east at 65 miles per hour, what time did the conductors get out of bed yesterday? Aargh! I hate word problems and yet I can't let my son know that!

    So, over the summer I read more than a dozen books on algebra. We've got some good ones here at NYPL! When I first searched for "Algebra" in our catalog, I turned up more than 5,000 items. Once I checked off that I only wanted books that I can take home, it became a more manageable 180 items. I picked about twenty and got to work reading.

    I also checked out a few of the DVDs we have on algebra. While not every topic was necessary for the work we were doing, the videos helped too. We would watch a video through and then come back and watch it again while pausing to take notes. My son likes to rush things and I knew his poor note taking in 8th grade would come back to haunt him. Once we were in the middle of algebra he noted, "I guess I should have taken better notes last year, huh?"

    I previewed lots of books looking for the ones that would be helpful to both of us. As a teacher, I liked The Usborne Illustrated Dictionary of Math and Forgotten Algebra.

    For my son, How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra was a life saver. We read the book together over the summer and did all of the problems and I can happily say that we are now both whizzes at word problems!

    The DVD Algebra for Students: Variables, Expressions, & Equations was a great help in reviewing terms that we sort of knew but had not yet committed to memory. We also liked NEW SAT PREP: Program 5 Algebra. We learned a bunch of great tips that we have used ever since watching this fast-paced video.

    I had heard lots of great things about the series of books written by Danica McKellar, former child star of the series, The Wonder Years but I have to admit that the title of her first book really turned me off. Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. Considering the trouble we were having this summer and early fall, I put my prejudice about the title aside and read it.

    I LOVE this book! Danica McKellar loves mathematics and that comes through in her approach to empowering young women to not just learn math but to embrace it and love it and use it to further their education.

    Now, I just had to convince my 13 year old, 9th grade boy that this was truly the best of all the math books I had reviewed all summer. Not only that, I wanted him to read the entire series including Kiss My Math and Hot X: Algebra. It was a hard sell. The first thing he said was, "The titles are really stupid". Then after having flipped through the pages he announced in horror, "This book is for girls! Girly girls!"

    He's right. Math Doesn't Suck and all of Danica McKellar's books are written for girls because they supposedly do not do as well as boys in math. But the beauty of these books is that she explains every concept really well and gives silly examples that young teens can relate to. She actually makes math fun and concepts memorable. Why should the girls reap all the benefits?

    So, I didn't push, but each time we came upon a concept or problem that we were having trouble with, I suggested we look it up in the table of contents of one of Ms. McKellar's books and see how she explains the topic. Before long, my son was referring to her book for most answers and explanations and he finally admitted that her books were the best. And he asked to read them all from the beginning! Yes! Another homeschool / library success! Thank goodness we can keep renewing these books for up to 10 times!

    I hope you won't be spending the New Year struggling with algebra, but if you do find yourself with a frustrated teen, check out some of our resources. You may also find the article Making It All Add Up: Homeschooling Tips for Math by Antonia Malchik helpful too. Good luck. Make it fun.