Algebra – do we start too easy?
I am teaching algebra again next year. Not that I mind algebra. Quite the contrary. I think it is vitally important that freshmen receive a strong foundation in algebra, and in many ways this is more of a challenge than teaching, for example, precalc. Further, I don’t mind teaching freshmen. (Although once I did, but that’s another story)
So here’s the question: The beginning of my course covers ground that most, but not all, have already seen, though not at the depth I will be covering the stuff. And this is transition to high school time. I go a bit slow, and concentrate on good behavior, work habits, organizational skills, etc. But that means that it is relatively easy to earn very high grades for the first and even second marking periods (we have 3/term, 6/year), and build up a false sense of confidence. When we hit factoring, every year, one or two or even three kids in each class will get caught ‘napping,’ iow, will not pay attention because everything up to this point has been easy, and become lost. It happens so fast that some of these kids never get back on track. (Btw, this is very much a boy thing).
So what to do about it? I already warn them in advance. Plus these are 9th graders, 13 year-olds. They are not much advanced past the stage where they hear: “Don’t touch that, it’s hot” and proceed to immediately touch. I don’t want to make the beginning much tougher. What I do now works well with most kids. Those 4 – 8 weeks at the beginning are really a nice time to lay down good foundation, clean up work and make it more uniform (eg, transposition instead of pendant addition).
Have you experienced this? What do you do about it? Or even if you haven’t, do you have ideas/suggestions?