Pre Algebra is the name of a course that is generally taken in middle school math, although sometimes it is taught as early as third grade for gifted students. For homeschoolers, pre-algebra can be taught anywhere from 8 years old to 17 years, depending on the child's foundation in math and ability to process the information.
The purpose of pre-algebra is obviously to prepare a student to take algebra and then go on to upper level math. Without a good foundation in pre-algebra, a student may suffer academically for the remaining years they take upper level math courses. Pre-algebra is everything about numbers that falls between the basic four (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and algebra. It even includes some geometry, although most middle schools break geometry into a separate course. Here is a partial list of the concepts that are generally covered in pre-algebra:
Whole numbers, prime numbers, mode, median, mean, word problems, points, lines, rays, angles, area, volume and perimeter, fractions, mixed numbers, equations, exponential expressions, roots, decimals compared with fractions, proportions, ratios, negative numbers, opposites, and algebraic phrases, order of operations, variables, parentheses, ratio problems, and powers, computing interest, triangles, congruence, bisectors, advanced equations, permutations, equations of the line, conversions as well as graphing.
"Many parents believe that pre-algebra is a short bridge that can be bypassed somehow," says Dianne McLean, HECOA Director. She feels that this is not true in most cases, "I'm all for eliminating redundancy, but I've tutored remedial algebra students for several years who simply were pushed straight into algebra without understanding pre-algebra basics. We had to stop and go back and review simple fractions and decimals, which they should have learned in pre-algebra." As well, McLean says students should not take pre-algebra if they don't know how to do multiplication problems and long division without assistance. "Age and grade level are irrelevant with math," she says, "Math is a process, each concept builds on something that was previously mastered. Some can get each concept and move quickly, but others need more time. If they are not ready, they should not move forward."
She comments that a student must know division to learn fractions and decimals, which are a huge part of all upper level math. Fractions and decimals are mastered in pre-algebra. Students also must know multiplication in order to factor numbers for fractions. Both multiplication and division must be mastered before a child can learn exponents and roots. "Algebra is about more than replacing unknown numbers with a letter," McLean says.
The other thing that Dianne emphasizes is that math should be taught with a live instructor, or at the very least a live tutor. While she agrees there are some exceptional people who are naturally great at computations of all kinds, she comments, "Buying expensive math curriculum is a guessing game because all students process information differently. You can't just buy a program and expect every child to learn it by reading and watching pre-recorded videos. Math, especially pre-algebra and higher, is the only subject that I feel most individuals can't master without some interaction from a person who has been there and can explain it in a variety of ways. "
To get a complete list of everything that is taught in pre-algebra, in the order that it should be taught (according to math experts), become a member of HECOA today and then look under the member Toolbox.