Issue #3

July 3, 2018 We survived the tests and unleashed the summer academic program. We're taking on a single math field for the first time in 5 years. Eight years after I introduced daily math, I've introduced daily writing.
Issue #3
This issue outlines the summer math program. Math means 'what you have to do before I let you play video games' Between camps and math, there's precious little screen time.
From the Editor
Summer is here. We survived.

The family went to see a movie and left me alone to fend for myself. Here's my fending with fresh mussels.

We survived the big 7th grade test. My 4th grader, who we consider the math genius in the family, tried hard to beat older brother and came close. Older brother wants to write for a living, and younger brother wants to go to Mars, but so far the math guy is a better writer and the writer does better in math.

Normally, the topic of daily math varies from week to week depending on my level of insanity. As an experiment, I am going to focus on Algebra I this summer with child #2. After I disentangle algebra from the topics in an algebra book, we can dig in. This will be the first time one of my kids focused on a single subject in 3 years. Child #1 is going to get nothing but writing.

The last break was 3 years ago. I told the oldest that he could get D's all year. He would never have this opportunity again. He took me up on it, exceeding expectations (he got a C in math, I didn't expect anything but a single B on his report card), and by the end of 5th grade we were working frantically to catch up. This break will be from the normal routine to a different routine, which will be equally hard. But different.

Summer algebra

I have a stack of about 2 dozen Algebra I books from the library. None of these are suitable for use by a student. These would work really well for a parent who assigns their child algebra to do at home and the parent is stuck...

Summer algebra
The right Algebra I book

I have a stack of about 2 dozen Algebra I books from the library. None of these are suitable for use by a student. These would work really well for a parent who assigns their child algebra to do at home and the parent is stuck.

The content of these books varies widely, but they all include many topics that are not under the heading 'Algebra I'. Here's what I found inside.

  • Pre-algebra - negatives, fractions and parentheses
  • Functions, especially linear functions, which is a course in between pre-algebra and Algebra I.
  • Most but not all Algebra I topics
  • Algebra II topics
  • Advanced post-algebra topics like complex numbers, exponents and logs.
  • Post calculus topics like linear algebra and series, with some statistics thrown in.

What are these authors thinking? They write algebra books for a struggling high school student and then throw in a few optional chapters on topics after BC calculus.

The right Algebra I book is a list of problems for the child and one of these spoon-feeding books for the parent in case you're asked to help. From this list, which problems are the best ones for your child? Any problem she can do in 30 minutes.

Algebra I topics
Equation Manipulation

Step 1 in algebra is the transition from 3 + __ = 15 to 3 + x = 15. This is followed by more complicated version of this equation. As I explained in the last issue, there's no magic in solving simple algebriac equations, just a little hard work and experimentation.

Khan is a good place for sample problems but you have to use google search because the Khan website itself is useless in finding anything. There are plenty of Algebra I and Algebra II high school tests available, and the first few sections cover this topic.

Geometry and Trig

Once your child knows how to solve for x, it opens the door to a diversion into geometry and trig. We are now coming back to Algebra I to clean up all of the gaps.

Pre-Algebra Practice

Algebra problems are a good place to practice pre-algebra skills. We're very rusty on our pre-algebra skills because we skip pre-algebra and backtrack whenever a pre-algebra concept appears in an algebra problem.

We also found a gap in linear functions. Apparently my 20 minute linear function starter course did not stick, even when given twice. I think I'm going to assign an 8th grade linear functions book as a backtracking exercise.

The best starter problems for Algebra I are word problems. Verbal math requires 3 times the thinking as equational math, and as a bonus word problems are usually multi-step. The third best way to practice Algebra I is just to move on to trig and geometry, but as I found it leaves a lot of gaps.

Advanced topics

The focus of Algebra I is performing the 4 basic manipulations (add, subtract, multiply and divide each side of the equation) properly in the presense of negatives and parentheses.

At some point, I'll introduce a 5th operation, which will be to multiple one element of one side of the equation, or the whole side, by one. One in this case can take the form of 5/5 or (1/5)/(1/5), or (1 + x) / (1 + x).

The last topic will be finding the roots of simple quadratic equations without a formula.

During this tour of basic Algebra, we'll encounter, learn and practice a variety of math topics. When we get to 2nd degree polynomials, it will be time to move on to Algebra II, but not before next year. In between Algebra I and Algebra II, we'll use our new found equation manipulation skills on geometry and trig. Again.

My Algebra I course
Problem selection

A good Algebra I problem has 3 parts:

  • Some confusion and complication that disguises the equation to be solved so it takes the child a few minutes to realize that this is the same exact routine as the last exercise, mainly solving for x.
  • A series of equation manipulations fraught with pre-algebra topics that takes a few attempts to find the right approach. Do we start by adding 3 to each side or dividing by 5? Let's find out.
  • A 3 or 4 step solution process independent of the equation manipulation that requires some logic. By this I mean something more than 'find the value of x', like 'will Sue go to the movie based on solving the value of x in each scenario?'

Algebra I books themselves are horrible, as is Khan Academy, because they focus on a single step to practice a single topic, repeated over and over again in problems, with no confusion, until it's programmed into the child's brain, and then move on to the next spoon feeding topic. To make matters worse, in case the child isn't in the mood to think at all, Algebra I books and online material explains in nauseating detail how to do the problem step-by-step.

This isn't going to a child to do homework in 4 AP course by 8 p.m. each night. This is the prescription for a college essay that reads 'I spent 8 hours a night doing AP homework because I never learned how to think before I got to high school and that's why my admissions scores on 'personality' and 'liveliness' are zeros.

Practice Problems

After a month of research, I've settled on the NY Regents exams in Algebra 1. I'll supplement these with released tests from Virginia and maybe Texas. The level of the material in most is suitable for elementary school, and the harder problems will develop thinking.

The NY library has Algebra I exams going back to 1955. The 1955 version is a riot. Here's the first page.

With the exception of the concept of 'x' appearing in these problems, my exiting 4th grader has seen all of these topics in school except for question 8. Question 8 requires special mention because it involves factoring nth degree polynomials, a topic that has been moved to modern Algebra II courses, representing a skill as useful as using a slide rule or churning butter. I will be investigating strategies to test out of Algebra II in high school simply to skip this annoying topic. (I will also be investigating strategies to test out of geometry and trigonometry because this is Competitive Parent Magazine).

The Best Way to Do Algebra

The 2nd best way to learn Algebra I is to do algebra word problems, but these are so lame that my 7th grader's math journal is full of answers to homework problems that read 'Joe would not consider apples to begin with because he likes Doritos, so this problem is lame.' I read through a year's homework answers because he brought home the contents of his locker. I don't know what the questions were, but there's no doubt his non-answers are 100% correct. Joe wouldn't eat apples and I'm sure the problem is lame.

The best way to learn a super-set of advanced Algebra I skills and all of the thinking and problems solving skills and Grit which should be the real objective of doing Algebra I work - is to program video games. The best video games would be the original Pong or Atari games like Asteroids and Space invaders, but these have already been rejected by my kids as Ancient Lamoness. Modern video games are suitable for both boys and girls, whereas I think my old school approach was more for a boy who has been trapped in a cave for the last 40 years.

I'm going to supplement my Algebra course with a step-by-step tutorial on how to set up a web page, add javascript and jQuery, and add Canvas. Canvas is a way to plot x and y, draw shapes, and make them move on a web page. I'm competing with Alice and Scratch, but Alice and Scratch take away the work to move a point on an x/y grid.

I know from experience that a child will emerge from a visual programming exercise midway in the Algebra II realm with higher skills and less effort. If anyone is interested, I'll share. I started this blog a month ago, and it takes about 2 years for readers to notice, so I'll probably be finished before I get the first comment.

The authority on grit

You are probably wondering if this will be an article on Angela Duckworth's ground breaking research that correlated Grit as the single biggest factor in a child's eventual success academically, professionally, in life and family. While I'm a big fan of...

The authority on grit
Looking for grit

You are probably wondering if this will be an article on Angela Duckworth's ground breaking research that correlated Grit as the single biggest factor in a child's eventual success academically, professionally, in life and family. While I'm a big fan of Duckworth, she neglected to provide a prescription for endowing your children with grit. I am providing that prescription, so this article is about me.

The writing program is a small part of our grit activities. I've got something time consuming, mind numbing, and grueling in mind. The writing program is delayed, however, because my 7th grader's home room teacher, who teaches the class reading, has been giving the kids all day writing assignments starting with the topic after first bell and concluding with turning in the assignments at the last bell. Curse you, home room teacher, for beating me to it.

The secret formula for grit, or if you have multiple children like I do, grits, is to provide your children with fun, engaging, role playing projects at age 4, and slowly take the fun out of them and replace it with a sense of growth and accomplishment as the years go by. Throw in chores and band, and you've got grit. Also scouts or life guard camp, and painful sport like wrestling, cross country, or similar endeavor. Or all of the above. We chose all of the above. Please refer to the url for this website if you doubt me.

There is debate among authors whether band or chores are a bigger determinant of grit. I'll take them both.


To find the time in our busy weekend schedule to do test prep or weekend math, I made the kids follow me around the house with their assignments while I cleaned. I used to set up a desk and chair outside the bathroom while I cleaned it for one kid when he was 4 years old. He would do his phonics, and I would clean the toilet. I used to get the whole house vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, kitchen cleaned, and everything picked up. It was a break for mom, my exercise, and a good way to build up tolerance against my kids whining about the insane work I assigned. Dude, you have to add 2 digit numbers, and I have to clean the toilet in a house full of boys. Quit complaining.

Little by little I started to assign chores that don't involve harsh chemicals. I'm still left with toilets, but today everything was picked up, the kitchen cleaned, all rooms vacuumed (properly, finally), and I only glared at them from the bathroom for nostalgic purposes. I think they know I'm proud of them. They didn't earn their chore grit from nagging. They earned it from watching me do it, with drama and various speeches I give from time to time. Numerous parents told me I should just hire someone to clean my house once a week. It's not expensive - maybe $80. (Forget for a moment that the $80 a week adds up to $72,000 by the time the child goes to college). I wonder what type of lesson this parent wants to teach their child.

I've also assigned dirty plumbing tasks, rewiring the electricity, sealing a flat roof when it was 120 degrees out, picking up every cigarette butt on the block, painting, and fixing the car tail light because my hand couldn't reach the bulb. We've taken many 5 mile walks just for the fun of it, and one 50 mile bike ride. Last month I announced that we would no longer go out to eat as a family unless we walked to a restaurant a minimum of 2.5 miles away. I can't say for a fact that these rub off on other activities, but I've witnessed my kids spend upwards of 5 straight hours without a break doing school projects and papers.

There's plenty of mystery to grit for people sitting around pondering what could cause grit, but there's no mystery for those who do grit.


This year was the 4th year for band for the older one and the 1st for the younger one. It's not a high pressure endeavor. Other than daily practice, like 20 minutes, it's more about not quitting. No kid wants to practice, and most kids want to quit. In fact, most kids do quit. Colleges are not looking for kids like this. It takes some effort on the part of adults so that kids aren't told 'you have to practice because it's really important' and than show 'you'd should quit because this is so unimportant that your parents don't do it.' I started practicing daily myself until I mysteriously got so bad that my kids banned me from playing. I bought books full of musical and movie music. I threatened my kids to get them a real teacher. I threatened to practice with them. And most importantly, i forbid quitting.

The human brain develops the part that is in charge of decision making at age 25. By the teen years, the immature, undeveloped brain learns to use the part that is in charge of emotional responses to make decisions. A parent who lets their child make decisions before age 25 on issues that impact the child's future has their own problem with decision making.

In 7th grade, children are just learning to use their emotion brain lobe to make decisions and promptly decide to quit everything. This is normal. I was a 7th grader for a whole year. I know 7th grade. Of course you want to quit. But you can't, because I also know 8th and 9th grade, when you wish you didn't quit. In fact, future you just visited me last night in a time machine and forbid me from letting present you quit. So you can't.

7th grade just ended, and the 7th grader is downloading jazz sheet music and practicing twice as long now, at his own volition, because he is interested in joining the jazz band at the high school he qualified for. Are you writing this down? This is your recipe for grit.


Academic work qualifies as grit if it is advanced, confusing, time consuming and hard. This year, it's going to be writing. Unfortunately, my child just spent 3 straight hours on his computer working on a weekend writing assignment for his insane teacher, so I'm going to have to raise the bar.

With the little time that we had, we read the first 2 chapters in our book. I asked 3 questions:

  • What did it say?
  • What is it really saying?
  • What do you think about it?

He identified a few subtle elements of the passages. A good start. He failed to notice the really broad obvious themes, but so do most adults, including me. And best of all, he commented on the text without using the word 'lame'. It's a start. When you read the writing article in this issue you'll see how quickly we made progress.

Summer writing

Our summer writing program is a big hit even though we haven't gotten to writing yet.  We're in the process of learning how to read and how to choose a topic by stealing from Jewish scripture like all good Hollywood writers...

Summer writing

Our summer writing program is a big hit even though we haven't gotten to writing yet.  We're in the process of learning how to read and how to choose a topic by stealing from Jewish scripture like all good Hollywood writers.

I studied world religion in college and know the contents of the scriptures from each world religion.  The scriptures for these religions - including my own - did not put Hollywood on the map.  This is why I'm studying Jewish scripture.  Plus, it's relatively short stories that we can read in 15 to 20 minutes and discuss.

Our formula is to read a story and discuss what happened.  Then we go back to the text and make sure our summary is exactly what happened and not what my son thinks happened because he thinks he knows better than the text.  Then we look at hidden literary themes and devices, ask what makes this a good story, and what movies or books used that device.

Our first eye opener was the story of Joseph and his brothers.   After we read it, we discussed what happened, who the main characters are and what motivates them.  I found the missing 4 points on my son's reading comp test scores.  During the discussion, he described the main, main character (who's name I won't write because I'm told this is not polite) like we all would.  Then we looked at the supporting text and the text did not support his explanation.  In fact, the text  supports an explanation of this character that I didn't know even though I read the text at least 20 times.

We are one step closer to AP Literature.

On to movies...

Last night, we went to see Ant Man and the Wasp and dissected this movie for our nightly literature work.  After a few weeks of dissecting stories I see the world with new eyes.  We had a meandering discussion, but her are the highlights:

  • The movie uses 'threes' repeatedly.  3 heros working together, 3 villains, 3 daughters, 3 states of the the ant suit, and other threes.
  • This was my warm up to get him to see the main point of the story.
  • The daughters triplet is the lead up theme.  We haven't found this is Jewish scriptures yet; maybe it's there for sons, probably, but we'll get to Ruth and other prominent female characters some day, and maybe check Christian scriptures and the scripture from Islam.  One of my friends is a theology professor and I have her book on women in both scriptures.
  • Then the big point - reuniting the mothers and daughters plus the father and daughter, but the big point in the Ant Mom and Wasp Girl.
  • The whole point of Jewish scriptures - through chapter 40 or so, is the father is separated from his children in the first few chapters and the rest of the whole thing is more separation and reuniting leading to the big reuniting in the first book of Christian scriptures.
  • We were not brought to tears by the mother and daughter thing.  I recommend every mom with a daughter watch I Kill Giants followed by Ant Man and the Wasp.
  • Instead, we brainstormed good movies and books with a Father Reunites With Son Theme.  Most movies have this plot until Kathleen Kennedy ruined Star Wars:  Indian Jones, Empire Strikes back, on and on.
  • My son reads a long list of book series with Dystopian themes.  Fathers are no where to be found usually.  What's up with that?

Most days, my son finds time to connect with his diaspora of friends online.  I stick my head in his room every 20 minutes and announce that he only has 5 minutes left.  Then dinner, Trumpet practice, busy-ness.  Finally we connect for 30 minutes or more for the day's 'Math', which is literature these days.  It's been years since the whining stage, and we have a pleasant and productive discussion that always ends with reviewing the plots and developments in video games.  This is ground breaking father and son time with a teenager.

Algebra and trig

This is a really big topic that is going to take many issues to develop. Here's the first bite sized chunk. We have a very simple formula that we start with.  Take these four equations and any introductory trig problem is solvable:

Algebra and trig

This is a really big topic that is going to take many issues to develop. Here's the first bite sized chunk.

We have a very simple formula that we start with.  Take these four equations and any introductory trig problem is solvable:

  • The angles of a triangle sum to 180
  • The Law of Sines is sin(a)/A = sin(b)/B = sin(c)/C
  • The Law of Cosines is A2 + B2 -2ABcos(c) = C2
  • If you don't have a calculator, you can solve sins and cosines from the unit circle using the Pythagorean theorem (the reduced form of the Law of Cosines)

Then we attack problems.  It's simple to get started if you understand a bit of algebra.  Write down all of the equations and leave variables (like a or A) if you don't have a numeric value from the problem.  Any equation that has one variable is solvable, and you can chip away at the problem.

The fourth bullet above is going to require additional  sessions.  Sometimes we start with the fundamentals of the what and why of trigonometry, and sometimes little bits of this discussion sticks.  But in practice we iterate between what is trigonometry, why it is what it is, and how algebra applies.

I will present the fundamentals of trig in another bite sized chunk in a future article.

At this stage note that a and A are the angle and it's opposite side. We always relabel problems in this way and make c and C the biggest angle and longest side. Some day this won't be necessary. This approach to trig is designed for 10 to 12 year old children.

Issue #2

June 3, 2018 In the final weeks of grade school spring testing. Last minute tweaks to cramming and summer planning begins.
Issue #2
This issue is a wrap up of the spring testing season. Gaps are appearing and need to be addressed quickly. Planning some heavy duty math and over the top writing for summer.
From the Editor
Welcome to Competitive Parent Magazine.

The first issue of Competitive Parent Magazine appeared as an article in  That website featured articles from my first parenting initiative - to get my children into a decent GAT program.   It started with a 3 year old whose older brother some how ended up in a really top notch program, mainly by luck and cheating.   After thousands of hours of research and 100's of experiments on volunteers (almost all who ended up in a GAT program), the easiest and surest way to meet this goal is to train the skills that entrance tests like the COGAT, OLSAT, and WISC4/5 measure. 

Older brother afforded me the opportunity to experiment with the 4th through 7th grade experience.  He's on track to go to the high school of his choice.  Little brother is picking a high school with much more stringent entrance requirements and only accepts geeks.  More on that later.

In the meantime, the goal of Competitive Parent Magazine begins where leaves off, pursing high school with intention and planning, 20 minutes a day of work under the heading 'No Math, No Computer'.  The eventual goal is a child breezing through rigorous college level work in high school, fully loaded with AP courses, and still going to be at 9 pm after an hour or two of homework.

When I started I asked the question, can we get into one of the country's top GAT programs and succeed?  This proved the rule, "You will make progress in that area where you apply effort."  I have modest expectations...

I was a bit disappointed that someone recently missed out on a few extra points on a certain math section of a certain math test.   It seems the question wanted to know which theorem applied to the diagram.  Was it the ASA Theorem?  The SAS Theorem?

I immediately knew that we had been thwarted.  I failed as a parent.  It never occurred to me that something as simple and as solvable as calculating the remaining sides and angles of a triangle could be formalized into a theorem and students would be expected to remember the name of the theorem and regurgitate it on a test.  No wonder why kids hate math and the US education system is failing them.

My goal is to cover the deficit in gifted education by covering one concept, proof, theorem, technique at a time between 4th or 5th grade and high school so that my child will know math before it happens.  The big problem in high school math and science is that kids are expected to solve a proof or know a concept in one night of homework that dozens of brilliant scientists took hundreds of years to conceive.   Even worse, the scientists or mathematicians were highly motivated to solve the unsolvable, but students are usually highly demotivated just to resolve a problem in homework in order to go to bed.  Tossing out one nuget a month to a younger child resolves this issue.  I present the material, we struggle, and the challenge grows while the child takes as long as needed to really learn the material.  There is a disclaimer, of course, that gifted education does the same thing, but do they do it at the 99.9% level?  I think not.

Back to the drawing board.  Today, my 9 year old, the prime beneficiary of mistakes with Mr. Oldest Child, will be presented with and solve these theorems.

For starters, we use our #1 GoTo Geometry Solution Protocol:  Solve everything you can solve before you read the question.   With trig, it's pretty straightforward:
  • a + b + c = 180
  • Law of sine:  A/sin(a) = B/sin(b) = C/sin(c)
  • Law of cosines, aka Pythagoras' Theorem when c is not 90o:  A2 + B2 - 1/2ABcos(c) = C2
That's pretty much it.  That and a little algebra.  Also, A is a side and 'a' is the opposite angle.  We always re-label the diagram in this way.  C is the longest side.  It helps at this age.
If I only had 20 minutes to teach trig, I would spend 19 of it teaching the 4 rules of algebra, 30 seconds showing 2 similar triangles and yada yada yada let's use the 3 things above and just solve what's missing.  Of course, I'll go into much more detail in future issues.

Once you've solved everything that can be solved, you can look at the question and see what's missing.  This won't work, of course, for a high school junior taking the SAT, or maybe it will, but it certainly works when there are no time limits on the test.

I always have to look up congruent versus similar.  I don't have the luxury of a photographic memory from 3 years at the Word Board.   I was standing there for 3 years asking questions not giving answers.  So I looked up congruent triangle and the first hit was that #$%@*#!!!! ASA theorem.  Apparently it's harder than I thought.  Our experiment today is to use 3 three bullets above and put this theorem out of its misery.

The MAP is not the SAT.  I thought the MAP was a subset of the SAT, and that studying for the SAT and actually taking it would make the MAP a breeze, but I was wrong.

First of all, the MAP asks about the ASA and SAS theorem, and I'm still mad about that.

Secondly, there's something about the MAP reading section that I don't understand yet that makes it harder than the SAT.   I've got 3 more years to figure this out.  My current working theory is that it has something to do with specifying what an author is implying by choice of wording and how topics are covered in the essay.  This is the key to an 800 on the reading section of the SAT, of course, but there is enough other question types that a 13 year old with an implication = result deficit can make a decent showing by answering other questions, like what does 'concillitoritudtion' mean in line 33.

I was late to the implication = result game.  In fact, I couldn't figure out that most books were about something else until I was 39 years old.  You'd think that if an author wrotte an entire book on a topic, the book was on that topic, but it turns out that the book is actually on a completely different topic, like politics, that appears no where in the book.  Personally, I'm sticking with nonfiction, where the autobiography I recently read on McKinley was in fact about McKindley and not Trump.  Or was it?

For years on getyourchildintogat, readers asked about writing.  Isn't writing a skill just like anything else that would benefit from a concerted intentional effort?  Yes it is.  But my specialty is identifying and training advanced cognitive skills so that I can teach my children trig when they are 9 years old.

But after that MAP disaster and a less than stellar 550 on the SAT, we're going to do some writing on the way to solving the implication = result issue. 
Once again, I'm in uncharted territory, but I think the following problem is highly solvable:
  • A good story is based on one of a handful of fundamentally human themes
  • These themes are already covered in classic literature of all types
  • I don't know anything about Hindu or Buddhist literature
  • Latin American literature is really cool, as I vaguely recall from college, but it makes no sense
  • That leaves Greek literature and Hebrew scriptures
  • The Jewish people formally declared that all Jewish children should read, approximately in the first century.  (I read this in The Source, a semi-fictional book, but it's plausible)
  • Look at the Jewish impact in western culture over the last 500 years in finance, physics, media, Hollywood, Nobel Prize winning, etc.
  • My son loves to talk about movies.  He can see a 30 second trailer for a movie that hasn't started production yet and spend 45 minutes explaining the as of yet unwritten plot.
  • A good movie plot is nothing more than one of the classical themes in literature
  • We're kind of religious.
A little problem solving later, and we are going to read Jewish scriptures.  It's the new daily math.  We'll read something, probably in order because being Irish and American Indian doesn't qualify me as a Jewish scholar, and then I'll give him a topic to write about along the lines of 'What are they saying, and what are they really saying?'  It will be a three part essay, with the final part being 'Which theme's were applied in Star Wars A New Hope or some other movie'.  Spoiler alert - the main theme of both Jewish and Christian scripture is 'Who is Your Father'.  Now you know.  I think using scripture to cover movie themes disqualifies me as a Christian blogger, but I will at least have an opportunity to work in something of values on the side.  

We'll throw in some Christian Scriptures, which I know a bit more about, and I will unleash a child for high school ready to blow away AP English, unless he decides to become a monk like his uncle.

From the description of this website, you might surmise that we have a unique approach to most math subjects.   It's almost a parenting philosophy.  I know many children excelling in after school math programs, year after year.   It's a lot of work, a lot of practice, and might play a role in the child's success.  The problem I have with these programs is that it is math training.  A little at a time, lots of help, and again, lots of practice.

I don't see a direct correlation between after school training and my goal of having a child sitting in a high school AP course with a lot of new material thrown at him every day, with no help, and little time to work once concept before the next 5 concepts need attention.

With algebra, I have a 5 minute introductory course and then I start firing off the questions.  We'll address any pre-algebra that we missed at this time.   I can't imagine how boring pre-algebra would be for its own sake, so we skip it.

Here is my introductory talk on algebra.  If you picture me addressing a new class of recruits with shaved heads who are about to undergo a rigorous 6 week boot camp, it's more fun to read.
  • Look at this equation.  What is wrong with it?  x(5x-4)-2x=7x + 1/2x2
  • The problem is that this equation is broken.  The equation we want looks like x = 7, with x on the left, equals in the middle, and a number on the right.  That is an easy to solve, not broken equation.  What is the value of x in the equation x = 7?  It is 7.  What is the value of x in the first equation?  We don't know.  It's broken.
  • Let's fix it.  There are only 4 things you can do in algebra*.  You can add the same thing to both sides, divide each side by the same thing, multiple both sides of the equation by the same thing, or subtract the same thing from each side of the equation.
  • Since you've never held a live algebra equation in your hand during algebra combat, you will not know which one to do.  So you will try one operation and ask 'did this equation just get more like x = 7, or did it get more complicated?'  If it got more complicated, you will start over and pick the next operation.  There are only 4 operations to try.  Have some extra paper handy.
  • Before you begin, you must get rid of parentheses.  You stink at parentheses.  You also stink at double negatives.
  • Therefore, we will write out each step, and if you screw up the parentheses, if you screw up the negatives, if you do an operation only on one side of the equation, and you will, or do an operation on only part of one side of the equation, and you will, we will find the error and fix it.
  • Am I clear!
  • Yes Sir!
Here are my 4th grade recruits at Navy Seal Team Six training holding an 800 pound log on which I wrote an algebra problem for them to solve.

And here's what the solution might look like after a week and 93 attempts:
  • x(5x-4)-2x=7x + 1/2x2
  • 5x2 - 4x - 2x = 7x + 1/2x2
  • 5x2 - 6x  = 7x  + 1/2x2
  • 5x2  = 13x  + 1/2x2
  • (4 1/2)x2  = 13x 
  • Divide by x - not obvious to raw recruits that this can be done
  • (4 1/2) x  = 13
  • x = 13/ (9 /2)
Here we have to take a break to invent the Flippy Property of Fraction Division, which will result in
  • x = 13 * 2/9
  • x = 26/9
High school Algebra I tests available online have sections with plenty of example problems. Khan Academy has much easier ones, which we never use for that reason.  I need grit as well as algebra dexterity to meet our goals.  Algebra will follow naturally from really complicated problems, but grit won't.  One 15 minutes problem is gold.  15 one minute problems play a role when you're getting nowhere.  You'll also need to backtrack with parentheses problems and double negative problems.

From start to finish, this takes about 4 months if you stick with it.  We never stick with it.  There's also geometry, trig, and obscure competitive math problems to work through.  If we did Algebra I start to finish, it would be too easy.

I think we're going to concentrate on Algebra I this summer.  I'm still mad about the SAS and ASA theorems.  The MAP is not going to get me again.

* There are a few more things to do in algebra, like multiple by 1 (aka 3x/3x) and find roots, but they'll find out later.