VideoText: A Lasting Homeschool Legacy and the “WHY” to Teaching Algebra

June 2, 2017

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VideoText: A Lasting Homeschool Legacy and the "WHY" to Teaching Algebra

A Lasting Homeschool Legacy
By Thomas Clark
Author of “Algebra: A Complete Course” and “Geometry: A Complete
Course” President of VideoText Interactive (www.videotext.com)

The word “legacy” comes from the Latin “legare”, meaning “to bequeath”.
Of course, that generally brings to our minds, an inheritance, in the form of
money, or property. As parents, I am sure we will be bequeathing
something to our children. Will it be of any more value than the material
goods we have acquired? While it may be somewhat narrow in
perspective, here is something else to consider.

As you educate your students, can you say they are involved in concept
development, or are they learning passively? Are they figuring things out
for themselves, or are they learning tricks and shortcuts? Do they see the
logic in what they are learning, or are they just memorizing information, for
a test? Are they analyzing their mistakes to find the reasons why they
answered incorrectly, or are they just accepting their fate, and recording a
grade?

A legacy can mean many things, but helping our children learn to think,
may be one of the more long-lasting tools we can bequeath to our children.
Of course, we need to carefully consider the educational materials we use
to teach our children, and those materials need to be developed “logically”.
Unfortunately, traditional Mathematics instruction is often driven by
programs which are developed “topically”, instead of logically.

The following article, regarding the traditional teaching of Algebra, was
written with that in mind. I trust it will give you food for thought, as you
strive to leave an educational legacy to your child.

 

Algebra? When Am I Ever Going To Have to Use This Stuff?
That question is being asked more and more across this country as
requirements for Algebra increase almost daily. One state is moving
toward legislation requiring that all 8th grade students pass Algebra before
entering High School! Another state administers a statewide end-of-course
examination every year to all students who took Algebra that year (with
poor results)! And most states now require all students to pass Algebra
before graduating from High School! Further, most colleges require
entering freshmen to take a placement exam to determine their
mathematics proficiency, and, on an average across the country, 50% –
70% of those taking the exam fail the Algebra portion and must take a
remedial or intermediate Algebra course to graduate!

So, is Algebra really all that important? Will you really use it in your
everyday life? The reality is that students are generally not going to solve
quadratic equations, simplify radicals, or add algebraic fractions, as adults.
Of course, we must clearly define “everyday life”. If we mean “on the job”,
then it is true that most professions require the use of some Algebra,
especially with the increase of technological applications. But this can be
called “dedicated Algebra”, and you can learn its use in actual job training.
On the other hand, if we mean “practical applications for everyday living”,
then our need for Algebra is negligible. In fact, overall, except for highly
scientific applications, it is very hard to justify the need for a comprehensive
study of Algebra, as far as content is concerned.

What, then, is the actual benefit of completing an Algebra Course? Very
simply, the proper study of Algebra requires a high degree of logical
thinking and error analysis, and those are skills that should be considered
essential in every aspect of our “everyday lives”. Admittedly, all other
subjects require that as well, but with Algebra, we can actually check the
student’s logical thinking by examining every step he or she takes to solve
a problem. Of course, that implies that students are developing concepts,
not just memorizing shortcuts, rules, tricks, and formulas. It also means
that our curricular materials must contribute to the active involvement of
students in the development of those concepts.

Unfortunately, mathematics programs in general, and most Algebra
programs in particular, treat an algebraic concept as something that can be
practiced and then memorized. The hope is that the understanding of
“why” the process works the way it does will automatically come from a
great deal of repetition as to “how” the process works. In Algebra, this is
not only ineffectual, but it deprives the student of the “joy of learning”. (Yes,
it should be fun to learn.) In addition, it contributes to a significant lack of
retention of algebraic principles. Obviously that means that homeschooling
parents, responsible for the complete education of their children, must
continue to look for materials that foster active involvement and
understanding, in every subject area.

From another perspective, the benefit of understanding Algebra can be
seen at the job entry level. Many companies require all prospective
employees to take some type of “aptitude test” which often includes
questions about Algebra. Why? Human resource directors will readily tell
you they are not necessarily looking for employees that know a lot of
Algebra. They are looking for employees who can think, who have
analytical skills, who have a sense of logic. In other words, even if you
don’t remember the Algebra, can you “figure it out”? It is quite obvious that
students who develop understanding and logical problem-solving skills will
be valuable assets in any job, and will have many more doors of
opportunity available to them as adults.

Oh, by the way, there is one other very practical reason for your students to
successfully complete an Algebra course, with understanding. They may
be homeschoolers themselves someday, and I can assure you they will
have to teach “this stuff” to their children.

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