College Algebra has a reputation of being that math class that every college freshman needs to take. And in truth many freshman do take College Algebra whether on their way to another math course or as a terminal degree requirement.  No matter who is in your course there are three unexpected areas of difficulty almost all students have.

  1. Operations on Fractions – Even the best students balk when it comes to hand manipulation of fractions. The key to getting students past this hurdle is familiarity. Include fraction review in the beginning of the course and then liberally use fractions in other problems.
  2. Interpreting slope – When you ask a student to tell you what slope means most parrot “Rise over Run” but ask them to state the meaning of slope in context in a sentence and be prepared for blank looks.  Help your students understand that slope measures rate by including interpretation questions in your problem sets.
  3. Close reading – Students are trained to find keywords that they think can help them solve problems.  By focusing only on what they think are key words and numbers students miss important details in word problems such as the need to convert units, which variable is independent and whether the answer makes sense. Help students learn to close read by including scaffolding problems that break down questions into parts and lead students through the steps of close reading and problem solving.