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The Way I See It-Problems Learning Algebra?

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More and more questions are being asked about how to get a child to pass the high school algebra requirement. Algebra was impossible for me and it never made any sense.

Education has fads and my path through higher education was saved by the finite math fad in the mid-sixties. Finite math, which consists of statistics, matrices and probabilities, was the required course instead of algebra. With a lot of tutoring, I was able to do finite math and get a decent grade of a B.

I am really concerned that the algebra requirement is screening many bright kids out of colleges and technical schools. Algebra is not needed for careers in auto mechanics, drafting or industrial design. From many interviews with parents, teachers and individuals with ASD, there appears to be three patterns of difficulty with math. Students are

  • terrible at algebra, but good at geometry
  • really bad in all math beyond basic elementary school arithmetic
  • good at algebra and poor at geometry

I have observed students who failed algebra in high school, but were able to do geometry and trigonometry. If the school will allow it, I recommend immediately putting a student who has failed algebra into a geometry class. If school officials tell you algebra is the prerequisite for geometry, tell them the Greeks invented geometry first! You may even need to buy geometry and trigonometry books on your own to prove that your child can do other types of math.

If your child is having difficulty getting into a college or technical school, try going in the back door. Showing your student’s portfolio to the right professor just might cause barriers, like having to know algebra, to fall. If your child is gifted in art, show an art professor your child’s work. If your child can build things, proudly show a professor in mechanical engineering a robot your child has built. Don’t let your child become limited by their difficulty in math!

Recently I visited FERMI Lab outside Chicago in Batavia, Illinois. The people who draw all the technical drawings for their highly complex equipment had two years community college degrees in drafting. Silicon Valley has no algebra requirement. If you can write good code, you will get hired. They do not care about algebra.

Below are some great online resources that offer free materials for learning/teaching mathematics and computer science.

  • Quirkyscience.com
  • KahnAcademy.org
  • Udacity.com (charges a small fee)
  • CodeAcademy.com
  • Wolfram.com

Remember, you are your child’s best advocate; focus on what they can do and not on what they can’t!


Temple Grandin, PhD, is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most noted highly functioning person with autism in the world today. For more information, visit her at www.templegrandin.com.


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  1. You are my inspiration, I have few blogs and occasionally run out from brand :). “‘Tis the most tender part of love, each other to forgive.” by John Sheffield.

  2. Rajarshi Rit says:

    Also, the trend of day-to-day-life challenges and mathematics question-papers, ask-for only 1-type of mathematical-skills … that is, “neatly execute some steps” , such as , “calculate it”, “break it”, “fuse it”, “cancel it”, “carry it”, etc.
    But mathematics question-paper could be designed in other ways (But I’ve never seen) … say,

    “What is difference between a Variable and an Arbitrary-constant?”,

    “Could you find some similarity among Power, Root and Logarithm? Write it. ”,

    “Why a trigonometric function cannot be used as a measurement of angles?”,

    “Give example of differentiation and integration from simple, real-life. Give graphs to explain them”,

    “Why we cannot use the simple childhood-algebraic way to calculate ‘rate’ ( (final value-initial)/time ) , instead we have to take help of limit and differentiation?”

    I can assure that , injustice to some-group of students in math-exams, could be decreased (at-least), by opening some new-windows. I’m Not telling to decrease labor … in-fact telling to use more-labor, but in different ways, out of stereotypic view of mathematics.

    • Snowy says:

      A good many vauleblas you’ve given me.

      • RAJARSHI RIT says:

        Glad to see my replies are published, & some replies came. Practically; mathematics is taught in a strange way from nurseries to universities, throughout era, and only a “few” qualities are searched within students.

        Take a real-life example. A classroom, a mathematics teacher is asking question. ” (a+b)^2=what? “. probably the teacher is expecting the “normal” answer … a^2 + 2ab + b^2. Most-one probably reach to this answer by “reflex” – like lizards or dinosaurs did.

        But, is it the reality, what our reflex shows us? Now imagine, a student, sitting at a corner of classroom, looking out the window, (plausibly in the blacklist of the math teacher), speaks … “sir… how can I tell? m-a-n-y thing is possible … … like ((a+b)^2 ) +2 – 2; or even (a+b)^2 is ownself also equals to (a+b)^2 !!! ” . What the teacher will tell that kid? An attention-seeker? a joker? a disobedient? What its classmate will tell? abnormal? disturbing element? a stupid poor guy who don’t knows (a+b)^2 equals to what? That blacklisted student probably will don’t know, it was the only-one who really “labored” to reach the answer & have reached to a truth.

        A matter-of-fact is, many people , having good academic results and confident life and profession(including teaching), don’t perceive how blind they’e. They can (for example), proceed learning & teaching Calculus without knowing what “differentiation” and “integration” physically mean. They can solve big problems on limit, & even set-theory , without knowing the “things” about they are dealing about. In other-hand, some who are actually Not-blind,(So they can understand they’ve understood nothing at end of class), cannot achieve good academic results, & if somehow they achieve an entry to higher-studies, they’ve to commit a life detached from the “true science”. (I don’t know the scenario in foreign-countries, but it is the situation in my surroundings).

  3. Rajarshi Rit says:

    I agree absolutely.
    I could-not perform simple mental calculations (such as market calculations) and algebra; was somehow-better in geometry, set-theory & mathematical logic ; until the mathematical expressions don’t get big.
    Throughout my school-life, teachers gave me strange explanations, such as “lack-of-confidence”, “fear-of-math”, “lack in practice”, etc. & all of these explanations were absolutely false. But no-one believed that.
    Even-more strange thing happened many-times, when I asked teachers, some questions demanding intense thought in mathematics or physics, they claimed that I’ve stolen these ideas from some books or magazine or such, and claiming them as my own-question. One main reason behind such suspicion, was, if a boy cannot perform simple mathematical problems, how can ask so-much “deep” questions.
    Later-on, I realized, those people are much better than me in maths (better to say “normal”-in-maths), are not necessarily logical. They move the x-s and y-s just like coins or rubbers- & they are blind about the “actual-nature” of the mathematical terms. They have only one-skill, that is, amazing ability to memorizing and executing rules (may be some mathematical rule, or some social rule). From their toe-nail to head-hair, and from gold-nib pen to office-chair … they can “tag” unreal significances, & can memorize and execute without any mistake. They simply do-not feel an internal need to justify all rules with intuition.
    On other-hand, there exists, (the-few maybe, I don’t know), peoples, who are poorer in math than normal- but very-much logical, visual and intuitive. But they cannot utilize their full-potential.
    I’m not telling math is any bad-thing. ( In-fact if someone feels problem with maths in daily-life/cannot take full-flavor of study-subject, the person should be separately trained for mathematics); But I’m telling, the popular thinking-mode in maths (practice-building some mental-calculators within brain) is bad, and it is a biological version of calculator-dependence. It is also very bad to using maths as the selection-“threshold” in all-the competitive exams and study-courses. In all normal schools , even in higher-education science-stream including physics, chemistry and biology; separate time should be provided, so that students having brilliant intuition but poor mathematics performance, could train-up themselves with mathematics in their way.

    I just think, Dr. Salim Ali, an ornithologist (Scientist obviously), who even did not enrolled in college just to avoid mathematics, revolutionized ornithology. If this person born on present-day, he had to complete a Master’s degree by being locked in a lots of notes, printouts, etc, then cracking poorly a Ph.D entrance exam full with lots of maths etc, and spending rest of life as a dull obedient research scholar.