- Computer Science in Algebra PD: Why Computer Science belongs in Algebra #1


suggs_sarah, I personally also struggle with persevering! My husband is a programmer and has been working on a personal programming project that involves some intricate math. He’s asked for my help on a number of occasions, and it is frustrating when progresses seems to be slow! However, we have persisted! I found the most success by going back to the beginning and moving slowly through the problem, making sure I understood each part of every equation. Now that all the little parts make sense to me, it is easier to understand the big picture.
Having personally gone through the struggle of solving a difficult problem, I feel much more sympathy for my students, and feel better prepared to coach them through the mental difficulties of solving problems.


In the classes that I taught last year (remedial algebra for high school freshmen and sophomores) the biggest struggles that I last year was getting the students to motivate each other instead of getting off task and procrastinating as well as having a positive attitude toward learning mathematics. Most of these students were in the class because they had not ever had any success in math and they had developed an attitude that they were never going to be good at math.

These classes were structured so that there was minimal homework assignments. Also, the workload was balanced between written (traditional math) and an online math program (Carnegie Learning). They were allowed to work in groups on their written work, but the online portion was a place were they had to be accountable for their own progress.

After teaching this class, I saw students actually start to believe that they could be successful in math. I think that this had to do with the structure of the class and me trying to be as positive about the learning process as I could. While some students still had the idea that math is something the wanted no part of, I tried my hardest to have interventions with these students and not let their negative beliefs have an negative outcome on their peers.

  1. My students have difficulty remembering procedures for fraction computation. To introduce the skills, I use visuals and hands-on materials so they see the reason/need for certain procedures.
  2. My students have difficulty remember how to solve multi-step algebraic equations. To introduce the topic, I teach them that they are doing the order of operations in reverse and then I teach them how to make and solve their own algebraic equation. They get the forwards and backwards concept from doing it this way.
  3. Understanding why some relations are functions and some are not is confusing to most of my pre-algebra students. I like to use real-world consumer problems to show them why relations that have two outputs for one input is strange and therefore not a function.


Most students don’t want to take the time to think about and follow the steps they have been taught to solve various problems. They especially have difficulty with word problems that require them to analyze and choose the correct method for solving the problem. It is always a challenge to make the concepts somewhat relevant to enhance students’ comprehension of the math principles involved.


I can’t get students to show their work. They don’t want to take the time to write it down. I have tried bribing them with extra points on a test, but this doesn’t always work and most show the bare minimum.

My students will also not go back and check their work. We have discussed the value in doing this, but they just want to get it done.

My students also struggle with problem solving tasks. We have discussed and practiced problem solving processes, but when they need to practice on their own, they just freeze up.


This is my first year teaching math, and I’m not sure what to expect for problems. I anticipate attitudes toward math may be a struggle, I intend to introduce growth mindset culture to the classroom to help students persevere in solving problems.


I agree, this is my first year as a math teacher, but as a science teacher vocabulary is often a struggle.


One difficulty I have is that my students often do not work well in groups. They tend to get off task or wait for the teacher to supply the solution. My students often do not want to complete tasks outside of the classroom. I wonder how well students would prepare for the activity of defining the word function before coming to the class the next day. My students often want to know how to do something but struggle with having to explore the concept themselves to find the solution.


My students also struggle with showing work and completing work. Many students want to as little work as they can get away with.


Many of my students also lack perseverance and give up when the task seems hard. I think we will continue to encourage our students that struggling is part of the process. I am not sure how to get students persevere but I keep trying to encourage hard work.


The majority of my students do not like to show their work but then can not explain how they got the answer they got. They understand that they will only get credit for the problems if they show their work and yet it is still like “pulling teeth.”

When I ask them to explain how they got their answers in writing, it’s like pulling teeth and you would like I was asking for the moon. We always start the year writing explanations together as a class so they have a model of what a good explanation involves. Then we move to writing explanations in small groups before trying it with a partner. Eventually, I expect them to write their explanations individually and they have somehow “lost” all knowledge of the practice we’ve done.

Check their work? Are you kidding? When I tell them that they need to check their work especially after story problems to make sure their answers make sense, you would think I was asking them to do something beyond their capabilities (again after multiple modeling examples and practice).


First problem I have is having students come in prepared. Most don’t bring paper or pencil. Luckily, my classes work well together so they help each other out. Second problem is having them stay on task. I tried to integrate more partner work in but oftentimes it came down to one student doing the work and one watching. I hope they learned by watching. Third is the fact that many of my students just struggle with basic number sense. So applying it to the ‘bigger picture’ sometimes is just too much.

Many students are also low readers, so attempting story problems isn’t very fun.

I do like teaching functions. I often illustrate it by “buying things a store”.
So if I go to Store A and buy a soda, it’s $1. If I buy 2 sodas, it’s $1. If I buy 3 sodas, it’s $1. They figure out the rule.
Next, if I go to Store B and buy a soda, it’s $1 If I buy 2 sodas, it’s 2. If I buy 3 sodas, it's #. They figure out the rule.
Next, if I go to Store C and buy a soda, it’s $1. When John walks in and buys a soda, it’s $2. Suddenly it’s not fair and we talk about functions giving one answer (price) for each set amount (soda). Different stores can have different prices but they have to be “fair” with a rule.


Glad to see my students aren’t the only ones not wanting to work.


I have a hard time getting my students to take notes. They know that when doing homework they can look up the topic at home, so they are less likely to take the notes down. They do not see the value of writing as they are learning and that there is a stronger bond to this information, than new information they may find online. To give more value to note-taking, I include it as part of the grade for each unit. I also know of teachers who allow them to use notes on quizzes and tests, but it must be notes that they have taken in class.


Work well in partners: I have tried this technique and found it effective: I give partners two different problems (that address the same concept) to solve. Then each student will present his work to his partner. After the presentation, the other student will ask clarifying questions about the other student’s work. Also, it’s important to keep reminding them that all class activities are graded.

Remember Formulas: In most cases, I use manipulatives to derive mathematical formulas before presenting the written/declarative form for the formulas.


I struggle with getting my students to think critically. They so often will shut down or Guess in hopes of me giving them the correct answer. It’s hard to get them to think outside the right/wrong box. On the other hand, they are also okay with being wrong. I feel there is a point to this, but when they don’t care enough to ensure that they are correct, it’s very frustrating.


At the beginning of the year, many of my students refuse to show their work. We talk about why it’s important to document their steps, and how it helps me find out what we need to practice. After that, they aren’t allowed to just give me an answer; they have to prove it with their work. We practice word problems daily. I’ve learned that this is a great way to get students to document their steps, so after a couple of weeks, showing their work isn’t as much of a challenge.

I also have students that are afraid to practice new concepts. If they don’t know it, they don’t want to show others that they don’t understand what’s going on. They are afraid of being wrong, and so they just won’t practice.

The only other thing that I struggle with is getting my students to go back and check their work. They will do it if we are doing whiteboard practice, but not on their assignments.


I have a hard time getting my students to show their work because they don’t see the value in it, and they want to hurry and get their assignments finished. They usually struggle with word problems as well; they will not read through it carefully, and they have a difficult time knowing how to use the information in the problem to solve it. Finally, completing assignments that they did not finish during class time and then turning them in on time.


One of the problems I have encountered is that students want to know the ‘tricks’ to solve problems. They don’t want to spend time understanding what the question is really asking them, but to just be told how to solve. On that note, they also do not like to show their work, or the process they used to solve problems.


The biggest challenge I have is teaching my students how to translate a word problem into a math function or equation. The first step is to focus on reading and understanding the problem. The second step is to write out what the problem is asking. The following step is to write down what information. The final step is setting up an equation and solving it. Too often, my students have difficulties going through all the steps.