Finding “X” in Algebra

Beckie has always been a bit impulsive, so it comes as no surprise that she has little patience for spending time solving algebra problems. She’s entirely happy to have mastered the basic mathematics functions and as the problems in her current text get longer and more complicated her frustration increases. She struggles with inattention and her working memory is not great, so with multi-step problems she may start strong but fade quickly after the first few steps. I ask her to find X. She perkily points to it in her math book and says, “There it is! And there! And there!” I then more specifically and deliberately ask her to solve for X. She grins at me and wants to know why we can’t just leave X alone, having found it already. She suggests that leaving X unknown will add some mystery and interest to our lives as we just leave X with its potential to be many things. I try to encourage her. I point out examples of how algebra is used in “real life” by adults in their work. She retorts that she will not be pursuing any profession involving algebra or geometry or any other higher math skills, so this is not worth investing her time in. I come back with examples of careers that would not be considered “math” jobs, but that never the less utilize math to some extent. Beckie offers the rebuttal that she will somehow find a way to determine which professions can avoid all but the most basic of math functions. I reply that if nothing else, doing harder math will prepare her for life because it will teach her to stick with things and think to solve problems. Beckie points out that her current problem IS math, and that for any problem she can’t solve she is confident that someone can be hired to do so. I’m thinking of directing her toward becoming a lawyer, since she enjoys making her case whether she has evidence to support it or not. Plus, she can always hire somebody to get her to court on time and take care of the billing. She might be good at it, since she can be tenacious about some things. We have to work with what we have, right?

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