Math Articles

The Blood, Sweat and Tears of Middle School Math

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Many middle school students struggle with math, often for the first time.

Math becomes harder in middle school, and teacher expectations are higher. These changes are appropriate as kids mature; the achievement bar must be raised so that students’ intellects are challenged to grow. The teacher who waters down instruction so that it’s always easy and “fun” isn’t doing students any favors.


Perfect for a Snow Day: ACT/SAT/ Math Review

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

cats in the snow  Jan 27 2011 012Many students will be taking the ACT or the make-up SAT this coming Saturday, February 7, and today’s snow day is a wonderful opportunity for kids to do some prep work.

There’s lots of test prep material online; here are some of my favorites:


Day Five: Read the textbook and work the problems. (Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Easter April 4 2010 Met with M and H 013My mom deserves the credit for this one.

When I was a kid math was not my forte, and in eighth grade I was struggling and failing at algebra. So my mom went to the local bookstore and bought me a review book (picture the mid-1970’s version of Algebra for Dummies).


Memory and Summer Math Review

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

 

It's easy to procrastinate in the summer.

It’s easy to procrastinate in the summer.

Dear Friends, Many students believe it’s best to leave their summer math review for the end of the summer; they fear that if they do the work too early they will have forgotten the material again by September. In fact, the best way to make learning stick is to work at it consistently and review all summer long. The brain is exposed to a barrage of information every day, so how does it decide what to keep and what to forget? One big marker is repetition. The brain receives most facts only once, and because those bits of information never show up again they don’t need to be remembered.


Sneaky Studying and the Pretend Cheat Sheet

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
Summer is coming, but first, EXAMS!

Summer is coming, but first, EXAMS!

Dear Friends,

Students, teachers and parents are all feeling the end-of-year time crunch; between sports, proms, plays, high stakes exams and piled-on schoolwork, it can be hard to imagine where to find those blocks of study time.

It’s time to resort to what I call Sneaky Studying. The key is to stop waiting and hoping for those big chunks of uninterrupted study time, because they ain’t gonna happen!


Is Your Student “Pumped Up,” or “Deflated”?

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

PTown New Years Weekend 2011 027Last week I wrote about the demonstrably positive effects of longer-term studying. Kids who begin studying several days before a test and who study consistently and to the point of mastery get high grades.

This seems like a no-brainer, right? So why don’t more kids do it?

One reason is that fear and anxiety hamper people’s ability to think straight and organize themselves. (We talk a lot about executive function issues in kids, but these are problems all people of all ages experience)

As part of his research with couples, John Gottman attached heart monitors to his subjects, and he discovered that when people become emotionally agitated, their systems “flood” with adrenaline and their heart rates elevate. A heart rate above 95 beats per minute signals that a person’s listening, planning and reasoning skills have broken down.


My Experiment Shows: Longer-Term Studying is Better

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

PTown New Years Weekend 2011 010Students typically wait until the last minute to begin studying for tests, and many parents support this practice, fearing that their kid will forget the material if they review it too early. But decades of tutoring as well as personal experience has taught me otherwise: Consistent, deliberate practice over time is the way to master material.

I have 30 tutoring students, and bunches of them go to the same schools and are in the same classes. This means that I often have multiple students taking the same test on the same day.

Recently, I was working with a number of students who were all getting ready for the same Monday algebra test (the test was being given by more than one teacher at the same school). My weekend schedule was so hectic that, in order to find enough time for everyone, I met with some students after school on the Friday before the test (my least popular time slot as you can likely imagine). The rest of the kids reviewed with me on Sunday.

This arrangement accidentally created a nice mini-experiment, with interesting results!


Does Your Student Know About Khan Academy?

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

P7150013When I taught my SAT class this summer, I asked students to raise their hands if they used Khan Academy; only half the class had even heard of it!

Khan is a powerful, free resource for help in math, science, history, and SAT prep. Please do go to www.KhanAcademy.org and familiarize yourself with all Khan has to offer (including topics of interest to parents such as medicine, banking  and art history), and then make sure your child knows how to navigate the site.

Here are some Khan Academy highlights:


The Right Way to do Math Homework (or Chemistry, Physics, Statistics, etc…)

Monday, March 18th, 2013

P1070041The reason math teachers assign homework is to give students the practice necessary for entrenching new concepts and skills in the brain.

Math homework is necessary for the same reason practicing the piano is necessary: it’s one thing to “get” what the teacher taught during the lesson, but it’s another thing to be able to perform that same skill independently and fluently.

Yet, all too many students practice math incorrectly, and they therefore gain little benefit, or even worse, they solidify misunderstandings and bad habits.

Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but enough practice does make permanent, which is why guitar teachers, ski instructors, and golf pros are all such sticklers for proper form; they know how hard it is to unlearn errors that have become ingrained.

Many students will do a whole page of math and never check their answers. How do they know they were doing the right procedures? (Answer: They don’t.)

Or, students check their answers after completing the entire assignment, and only then discover that their answers don’t match up with those in the back of the book. In both such cases students tend to declare: Oh, well, the teacher will go over it in class tomorrow.

But in each of these scenarios, the student has now thoroughly practiced BEING WRONG.

Here’s the right way to do math (or math-related) homework:

  1. Locate the answer key. If it’s in the back of the textbook, insert a bookmark or Post-it note for easy back-and-forth flipping.
  2. Do the first problem.
  3. Check it on the answer key.
  4. If you were correct, move on to the next problem.
  5. If you were incorrect, figure out what you did wrong before you move on.
  6. Check your arithmetic; did you make a careless mistake?
  7. If you realize you don’t understand how to do the problem, go to your notebook or your textbook and page through until you find the topic and carefully follow the explanation.
  8. Still stumped? You can get help on www.KhanAcademy.org. Or, ask a friend or parent or sibling for help.
  9. Only as a last resort, put a star next to the problem and make sure and ask the teacher for help tomorrow.
  10. Proceed to …

Better Math Instruction, Fewer Learning Issues?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

I’m hoping that as math instruction improves and becomes more “brain-friendly,” we’ll see fewer kids struggling in math.

When I was in my doctoral program, I was amazed at some of the research coming out on kids’ understanding of math concepts. We assume that children all learn pretty much the same math at roughly the same ages, and that they learn these concepts in math class.

In fact, there’s a wide natural variation, and not necessarily a lot of correlation between the math kids are taught in school and the math they actually know.


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