Thursday, May 1, 2008

Teen Trouble with High School Math

A reader posed this problem regarding teaching high school math:

How do you get a 15-year-old son through to graduation if he hates math and is rebellious?

I assume that this son is struggling with algebra. This is not abnormal, and there may be several reasons why teens resist this subject.

One problem may be the curriculum. Publishers may approach the teaching of math in different ways. We found that the Saxon way of immediately introducing baby steps too soon in succession just didn't work for our boys. They needed to thoroughly practice each step before going on to the next. When we went to Christian Light Education, a more traditional approach for teaching algebra, the boys did much better. That's not to say that Saxon is bad and CLE is good. They are just different ways of teaching the same subject. Some students do very well with Saxon, so don't shy away from it just because it didn't work for us. It may be a good idea to borrow a book from someone or get an old cheap, used one from a used book sale before investing in the whole kit-n-kaboodle.

A second consideration could be that your son isn't developmentally ready yet for this subject. I had so much trouble with our two older sons that neither of them completed their high school algebra. Shock! Yes, it's true, neither one finished, and I didn't try to force them to. Our second son, however, later took algebra at our community college and then moved on into a second-year college math.

Another thing to think about is that your son just may not be geared toward math. Our oldest son uses math every day as a tile layer, but just could not grasp the algebraic logic. It has turned out that he just didn't need it for the work he does. If he ever decides to take it for some reason, he can always pick it up later at a community college. Does your son excel at English, reading, and speech, or is he artistically or creatively inclined? Would he rather be working with his hands than sitting at a table with a pencil and paper? In these cases, you might look for ways to teach math in the context of projects in these subject areas.

It may be necessary to investigate alternatives to the traditional subjects in math if your state has minimum requirements for home schoolers. Even accredited public high schools do this. For instance, business math and general math were acceptable classes to take to meet the state requirements for graduation in my high school in Illinois back in the 80's. It's worth looking into. Another alternative is to wait a year and try again.

Also, consider extending algebra into a two-year program. Slow down a bit. Make sure he's getting it before pushing him forward. Talk it out. Ask him how he can get it done himself. Work with him on attainable goals.

Pray for wisdom.
Is math the real problem or are there other things going on in his life such as adolescence? That can be a very turbulent time. It is important to sit down with him when you are not in an argument and explain that there will be times when he thinks he is going to explode. He still has to respect and obey you, and he will be responsible for controlling his emotions. In those times, he must learn to call upon the Lord for strength and peace. He may need to go take a walk or go to his room to be alone for awhile, not as a punishment, but for his own emotional well-being -- and might I add, everyone else's as well.

About this age I noticed that our guys were itching to be working somewhere outside of the home. Our oldest son began a construction apprenticeship at age 14 with a trusted friend of the family (know your state's laws regarding apprenticeships and child labor). Our 15-year-old now works at the granite shop with his dad one day a week. It's good for them to begin to enter the world of men as they enter puberty. It gives them confidence and helps bring them out of the middle-school-silly stage that some boys go through. The hard work also relieves some of the built-up stress of hormonal changes. Caution is a must, however, because boys are as much at risk for being molested as girls these days. Also, co-workers and bosses with rebellious attitudes will absolutely bring out his own heart rebellion in a child who is not thoroughly rooted and grounded in Christ. Even Christian teens can pick up wrong beliefs and habits from which it can take years to recover. So, please be as sure as you can about the morals, values, and attitudes of the boss and co-workers your older children are working for and with.

Also, a private discussion with your husband is a must, especially when you are overwhelmed by a problem with schooling boys. He will have some very insightful advise, I'm sure.

Usually, a struggle in schooling is only a matter of adjustment. Though there may be others over you who are mandating certain aspects of your schooling, you don't always have to do everything in a particular order or according to institutionally-ordained time lines. That is the beauty of student-directed learning. All of our children are different, and, as their parents, we can seek grace from their Creator to give them the tools they need to succeed in life.

For instance, it is interesting to note that our two older sons only took one year of high school English. They excelled in history and science and read a lot. So, I must admit that I was a little nervous for their sakes when they tested to enter our local community college. You can imagine my awe and wonder when both of them tested straight into college-level math and English. Go figure (pardon the pun). I can only surmise from this that, number one, they were not ready for algebra and that, number two, all that reading and listening to talk radio must have been the best way to prepare them for adult-level writing. Hmmmm.