Kiss those Math Headaches GOODBYE!

Archive for the ‘Positive & Negative Numbers’ Category

My WAGER (& DISCOUNT PLAN) to help ANYONE learn Algebra

A wager … and a plan.

I am making a wager that I can help ANYONE learn and deeply understand algebra. And I have a plan to do just that.

Algebra Tutoring Right Here!

I’ve been tutoring algebra for a long time (oh, just a bit over 30 years now), and I have developed many tips and tricks for this subject area. Not only that, but I’ve seen pretty much every mistake you can imagine. And I’ve learned how to explain why each mistake is incorrect and to help folks view each situation correctly.

So in the spirit of the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty, I say:

“Give me your confused, your bewildered, your frustrated students, yearning to comprehend, the befuddled refuse of your overcrowded classrooms. Send these, the despondent ones, your so-called failures to me. I will lift my lantern of algebraic clarity unto their puzzled eyes!”

And in fact, I am offering a special, now through the end of March. I will tutor anyone who wants algebra tutoring for the special rate of just $40/hour (+ tax if you live in New Mexico). I tutor by Skype or FaceTime, so this offer is open to anyone worldwide.

Also, for anyone who takes me up on algebra tutoring and who does three or more sessions with me, you will get copies of my Algebra Survival Guide and Workbook at a 25% discount.

To set this up, just send an email to:
or send a text to:

Remember this offer ends on 3/31/2020, so take advantage of it now!

Algebra Mistake #5: How to Combine a Positive and a Negative Number without Confusion

So, you’d think that combining a positive number and a negative number would be a fairly straightforward thing, huh?

Well, unfortunately, a lot of students think it’s easy. They think it’s too easy. They think there’s one simple rule that guides them to the very same kind of answer every time. And that’s exactly where they get into trouble.

The truth is that combining a positive and a negative number is a fairly complicated operation, and the sign of the answer is dependent on a nmber of factors.

This video reveals a common mistake students make when tackling these problems. it also shows the correct way to approach these problems, using the analogy of having money and owing money to make everything make sense.

So take a look and see if this explanation doesn’t end the confusion once and for all.

And don’t forget: there are practice problems at the end of the video. Do those to make sure you’ve grasped the concept.















Algebra Mistake #4: How to Combine Negative Numbers without Confusion

Here’s a common mistake, and a very understandable one, too. Students need to combine two negative numbers, and they, of course, wind up with an answer that’s positive. Why? Because, they’ll say — pointing out that you yourself have told them this —  “Two negatives make a positive!”

This video gets to the root of this common misunderstanding by helping students understand exactly when two negatives make a positive, and when they don’t.


Make sure you watch the whole video, as there are practice problems at the end, along with their answers.










“Algebra Survival” Program, v. 2.0, has just arrived!

The Second Edition of both the Algebra Survival Guide and its companion Workbook are officially here!

Check out this video for a full run-down on the new books, and see how — for a limited time — you can get them for a great discount at the Singing Turtle website.


Here’s the PDF with sample pages from the books: SAMPLER ASG2, ASW2.

And here’s the website where you can check out the books more fully and purchase the books.








How to Remove Math Terms from Parentheses

How do you get math terms out of parentheses? And what happens to those terms when you remove the parentheses?

It seems like the process should be simple. But this issue often plagues students; they keep getting points off on tests, quizzes, homework assignments.  What’s the deal?

The deal is that there’s a specific process you need to follow when taking terms out of parentheses, and what you do hinges on whether there’s a positive sign (+) or a negative sign (–) in front of the parentheses.

But not to worry. This video on this page settles the question once and for all. Not only that, but the video provides a story-based approach that you can teach (if you’re an instructor) or learn (if you’re a student) and remember (no matter who you are). Why? Because stories are FUN and MEMORABLE.

So kick back and relax (yes, it’s math, but you have a right to relax) and let the video show you how this process is done.

And in customary style, I present practice problems (along with the answers, too) at the end of the video so you can be sure you understand what you believe you understand.






Algebra Mistake #1: How to Understand the Difference Between -1^2 and (-1)^2 without Confusion

Welcome, welcome, welcome to my series on COMMON ALGEBRA MISTAKES!

We’re going to have some fun spotting, analyzing, dissecting, exploring, explaining and fixing those COMMON ALGEBRA MISTAKES, the ones that drive students and teachers UP THE WALL!

I’ve had so much experience tutoring that I find these mistakes fascinating, and I intend to share my (ok, bizarre) fascination in this series of videos.

Also, be aware that I’m very much OPEN to suggestions from you folks on mistakes that you’d like me to explore. I highly value the experience and wisdom of you students and educators, and I want to do all I can to work with you to un-earth the mistakes of algebra, and bring them to the light of day so we can find ways to stay out of their way!

Here’s the first video on these mesmerizing mistakes. Could any mistake be more classic than this very one? I doubt it. But watch the video and form your own opinion …




Making Sense of Inequalities

OK, teachers, homeschooling parents and tutors … raise your hand if you’ve ever felt uncomfortable when students pose that question about inequalities?

That question being:  why do we flip the inequality symbol when we multiply or divide by a negative number?

I’d have to, sheepishly, raise my hand.

So when I got asked that question once again last week, I decided to figure it out and come up with an answer that would help students understand this point.

What I came up with is that it’s easiest to explain this through a combination of examples and logic. First, the examples.

Let’s break the situation up into three cases. We could have inequalities in which the numbers on the two sides are A) both positive, B)  both negative, or C) one number positive, the other negative.

Let’s start with Case A. Suppose we start with the statement, 2 < 4

Now, multiply both sides by a positive number (let’s use 3), and we get:  6 < 12. Still true, right?

But take the original inequality and multiply it by a negative number (let’s use – 3), and we get: – 6 < – 12. Not true, right? But if we flip the sign, we do get a true statement:  – 6 > – 12

Case B. Now let’s start with two negative numbers in our true inequality:  – 4 < – 2 If we multiply both sides by a positive number (3 again), we get:  – 12 < – 6, which is again true.

But if we multiply this inequality by a negative number (– 3 again), we get: 12 < 6, which is obviously false. However if we once again flip the sign, we get a true statement:  12 > 6.

Finally, Case C. Now we start with an inequality that has both a positive and a negative number:  – 2 < 4. If we multiply both sides by  positive 3, we get:  – 6 < 12, which is still true.

But if we multiply both sides by our – 3 again, we get:  6 < – 12, which is once again false. And again we need to flip the sign to make it true:  6 > – 12.

So far so good, but this lacks the logic of an explanation. How can we bring in some logic and reasoning, to help students see why all of this stuff happens?

Here’s my — granted, informal — way of explaining this. When we multiply or divide a number by positive numbers, we don’t change its sign; if the number was positive, it stays positive, and if it was negative, it stays negative. But when we multiply or divide a number by a negative number, we do change its sign … either from positive to negative, or from negative to positive.

So the reason that we flip the inequality symbol must be related to the fact that — by multiplying or dividing both sides of the inequality by a negative number — we are changing the signs of both numbers in the inequality. But how exactly does this work?

The answer, it turns out, is rooted in the relationship between the absolute value of numbers and their relative sizes. For numbers that are positive, there’s one way to tell which number is larger … the number with the larger absolute value is the larger number. For example, comparing 4 and 12, we know that 12 is larger than 4 because the absolute value of 12 is larger than the absolute value of 4. But for numbers that are negative, the exact opposite is true. For two negative numbers, the number with the larger absolute value is actually the smaller number. For example, compare – 4 and – 12. Their absolute values are 4 and 12, respectively, but the number with the larger absolute value is in fact the smaller number, not the larger number. In this example, – 12 (with the bigger absolute value of 12), is in fact smaller than  – 4 (with the smaller absolute value of 4).

So the point to remember here is that there are two different relationships between the absolute values of numbers and the relative sizes of numbers. For positive numbers, the greater the absolute value, the greater the number. But for negative numbers, the greater the absolute value, the smaller the number.

This fact has an impact on inequalities where we change the signs of the numbers. Before changing the signs of the numbers, the numbers on the two sides of the inequality had one size relationship; one number was larger than the other (let’s say that Number A is, at this stage, larger than Number B). But when we multiply or divide both of these numbers by a negative, we flip the signs of both numbers. And by flipping the signs of both numbers, we change the size relationship of the numbers to each other. The one that was the larger one ends up being the smaller one, and vice-versa. So in our abstract example, if Number A was larger than Number B before their signs were changed, after both signs are changed, Number A will be smaller than Number B.

Josh Rappaport is the author of five books on math, including the Parents Choice-award winning Algebra Survival Guide. If you like how Josh explains these problems, you’ll certainly  like the Algebra Survival Guide and companion Workbook, both of which are available on  Just click the links in the sidebar for more information!