Tackling High School Math with Ingenuity and Determination

Math—students either love it or hate it; they thrive at it or muddle through it. Three of my children excel in math. The other two find subjects like English and History more palatable. Algebraic concepts don’t come as quickly to them, and they have to work hard to succeed in math.

For my sixteen-year-old daughter, math is laborious. For the past few years, we’ve tried various Algebra curricula, searching for one that would help the concepts click. Although the perfect math program still eludes us, she made tremendous progress this year.

Tackling Algebra 1

In exchange for writing a Crew Review last summer, we received a year-long membership to CTCMath. Their online platform features diagnostic tests, instructional videos, computer-based problems, and worksheets. The tests revealed that my high school junior already understood more than half of the Algebra 1 concepts, so I only assigned material she had yet to learn.

Even though my daughter generally ignored the videos, she made excellent progress. Whenever she encountered a confusing topic, my math-whiz son helped her understand it. Working on only one or two skills each day, she completed the Algebra 1 course in less than two months. Since her average score was 90%, she even earned an A!

Attempting Algebra 2

As soon as she completed Algebra 1, I began assigning Geometry skills. The concrete concepts seemed straightforward to her.

The following week, however, she signed up for a Chemistry course, which requires familiarity with Algebra 2. Putting Geometry on hold until next year, I began assigning her Algebra 2 lessons on CTCMath.

Initially, she made consistent progress in the course. As before, my son helped her understand complex material so she could complete the work. Considering the videos annoying and unhelpful, she refused to watch them. Just over a third of the way through the course, her progress stalled.

By the beginning of March, it was clear that we needed to try something different. What could possibly help her?

Having no suitable solution, I allowed her to take a break from math and focus on other subjects. In the meantime, she completed some free online courses in other disciplines. As it turned out, this was an excellent opportunity for her to attempt different learning methods to discover which ones are most effective for her.

As May approached, I reminded her of the forgotten Algebra 2 course and encouraged her to try again. Instead of assigning CTCMath, I promised a full math credit if she mastered at least 90% of the Algebra 2 skills on Khan Academy.

To my amazement, she approached the challenge with refreshing ingenuity. Although she does not appreciate the Khan Academy videos any more than the ones on CTCMath, she discovered a helpful YouTube video from The Organic Chemistry Tutor. Covering most of the major Algebra 2 concepts, the video explained difficult material simply enough that she could finally wrap her brain around it. She viewed the four-hour-long presentation over several days. Determined to pass, she regularly paused the video to work through sample problems on her own before watching the solution.

The following week, she tackled the course on Khan Academy. By the final day of school, she had progressed nearly three-quarters of the way through Algebra 2.

The remainder of the course, however, still mystified her. The helpful video had not touched more advanced topics like trigonometry.

I encouraged my rising high school senior to view The Organic Chemistry Tutor’s trigonometry video and complete the Khan Academy course after Memorial Day. Alas, she was unwilling to sacrifice the beginning of her summer vacation to complete a math course.

Report Card

My history-loving daughter made impressive progress in math. While I had hoped she would “catch up” in this dreaded subject this year, she learned something more essential. She discovered that by seeking out resources on her own, she could succeed even in something as daunting as Algebra.

I’m pleased to add an A in Algebra 1 to her high school transcript.

Looking Ahead

My daughter’s senior year will be a bit heavy on math. This coming fall, I anticipate awarding her the Algebra 2 credit she has come so close to achieving. With the determination and ingenuity she has already shown, I know she can do it.

Before graduation, she needs to take a Geometry course, which I expect she will find significantly easier than Algebra.

To adequately prepare her to make financial decisions as an adult, she’ll also complete a Personal Finance unit. Whatever awaits her after high school, I want to be sure she’s fully equipped with the skills she’ll need to succeed.