Tag: curriculum

Algebra – Why Bother?

Algebra for the many,  not the few

I have taught mathematics to children and adults for over ten years in school, colleges and community centres around Kent.  Yet it has been my recent experience as a full-time tutor that has made clear that a firm understanding of the basic techniques of algebra will enhance a  students’ understanding of KS3 and GCSE mathematics.   The algebraic skills taught at KS3 and GCSE are fundamental to allowing students to progress beyond secondary school mathematics.   It is also one of the topics that many students commonly have problems mastering.

Image of algebraic calculations
Algebra is vital to understanding a wide range of mathematical topics

Algebra is often introduced too early for many students

 Loss of confidence caused by the early ‘failure’ undermines the student’ determination to succeed.  Each subsequent failure undermines the student’s confidence to the point where they see any effort expended to succeed as being ‘pointless’.   It is important to succeed and nothing succeeds like success. 

There is a perception that all algebra is hard

Algebra is not an easy subject, but each new technique is built upon the foundations of earlier ones.    We can all succeed in taking the first step even if we cannot be sure how far we will progress.

There is a perception that algebraic skills will not be used after leaving school

It is unlikely many students will use formal algebra on a daily basis after leaving school.  But many skills developed in learning it can help solve a wide range of problems in real life.  A grasp of the fundamental techniques of algebra will also help a student understand many of the other maths topics,  This is necessary if they are going to achieve level 4+ in foundation GCSE papers and vital if they want to progress far in the higher paper.

Knowledge of algebra enhances understanding and reduces the need for memorisation and rote learning

Many school textbooks prepare students to take their foundation GCSE papers, by teaching a wide selection of formulae and algorithms each relating to a specific instance or phenomena,  the foundation level student is expected to memorise and use.   Being able to use algebraic techniques to manipulate formula is considered a higher level skill. Yet it can be argued that most students who are struggling at GCSE maths find it difficult to memorise formulae.  Time spent learning algebra reduces the need for memory and enhances understanding which is helpful to everyone.

A Short Introduction to Algebra

I believe basic algebraic concepts and techniques should be considered a fundamental part of teaching both KS3 and GCSE mathematics.  It should not be restricted to only those students who are considered as able to succeed at the higher paper.   Algebra holds an important place in my teaching of the GCSE maths curriculum and this is why I am planning to provide short-term tuition aimed at providing students with a strong understanding of basic algebra.  Depending on demand these will be presented either as face to face lessons or online.   If anyone would like to know more about the tuition of algebra or maths in general, please feel free to contact me  using the link below

Contact Phil Wastell Freelance Maths Tutor

About Phil Wastell Freelance Maths Tutor

Is the high cost of buying textbooks damaging our children’s education?


A price worth paying?

On Friday I purchased two textbooks covering the foundation and higher papers of the GCSE Maths 1-9 syllabus.  I would like to say I was shocked by the price cost, but to be honest, I wasn’t.

Maths GCSE 1 to 9 Textbooks
The two books I purchased at Waterstones.

Even with Waterstones running a buy one and buy a second for half-price the combined cost still came to just under thirty quid.  On Amazon, each book cost £21.37 with Prime and £17.38 for a used copy through ‘other sellers’  To be fair,  these are well-written books with beautifully colourful diagrams and illustrations quite capable of supporting the study of any able and well-motivated students on their own.

A fair charge of just taking the ……….?

Unfortunately, the price charged for textbooks means that only the most well-off can easily afford or even justify buying them.  And the same is also true of schools.  Like medicine is to the NHS, books are the lifeblood of our education system.  Are the prices charged by publisher fair, or are they, like the pharmaceutical companies with the NHS, taking advantage of government policy that in seeking to fragment the provision of education to a point where individual institutions are unable to benefit from the economies of scale to influence the price charged to them?   Whatever the reason, the high cost of textbooks harms the education of our children.

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Chunking – How can I help my child with primary school division?

One of the problems faced by parents and carers of primary school children when helping them with their maths homework is being able to understand and explain some of the ‘new’ techniques now commonly used to teach multiplication and division in primary maths lessons.  These teaching methods generally came into use in 1999 with the introduction of the National Numeracy Strategy. I plan to write about the rationale behind the National Numeracy Strategy and how it fits in with the current national curriculum at another time.  Now I would like to post this video in response to a question posed by Lee on Facebook.  What is chunking?

What is chunking?

Chunking is an informal method of carrying out division based on repeated subtraction.   Watch the video below to see how it works.

I hope you enjoyed this post and feel free to leave comments, make suggestions or ask questions by clicking the link on the side of the page.


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