Archives for Math


Tests Are Valuable Learning Tools

When students get a test back, they typically glance at the grade and then stuff the test in their backpack, never to think about it again (unless, of course, the test has a refrigerator-worthy high score).

Meanwhile, teachers invest time and effort making careful corrections and thoughtful comments. This feedback is meant to help kids learn and improve. Reviewing test results with students and helping kids digest the information is an important part of what we tutors do, and parents can do the same.
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Rounding Up Three More Usual Math Suspects

We tutors get an interesting perspective into students' math struggles. We find ourselves reteaching the same concepts over and over, to students from 5th through 12th grade.

The human brain has a hard time grasping and retaining certain kinds of information. Terminology is especially hard, which is why you will notice that my Usual Math Suspects List comprises mostly math words and the procedures these words are meant to trigger.

Parents need to realize...
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A Surprising Benefit of Test Preparation

To get ready for standardized tests, students have to practice answering many different types of math problems, all mixed together. This can be hard, especially at first.

But it turns out that "interleaving" all sorts of math material produces better retention than practicing only one kind of problem at a time. Making the brain work harder causes it to learn more!

One excellent form of interleaving is to go back every...
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3 Math Facts All Kids Need to Know (But Many Do Not)

With school back in session, I find myself reteaching and refreshing students on a very familiar (to me, anyway) list of math concepts. By now I think of them as The Usual Suspects.

I hope parents will find it reassuring to know that it's not just their kid who can't seem to retain certain math facts. Students from middle school all the way up through 12th grade have trouble making some fundamental math ideas stick.

But parents also need to to realize that it's these "little details" which trip kids up in big ways and prevent them from being great math students. Indeed, most calculus students who drop out, do so not because they find the calculus itself hard, but because their math foundations are weak.
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Is Math Acceleration A Good Idea?

Way back when I was in school, Algebra I was considered a ninth grade course, and it was only a handful of "honors" kids who took it as eighth graders.

Since then, there's been a trend towards introducing algebra material to younger and younger students, in the hopes that by getting them primed earlier for algebraic thinking and giving them more years of algebra instruction, more students...
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Getting a Handle on Academic Anxiety

Do math tutors ever suffer math anxiety?

Sometimes I feel anxious when I'm going to have to tutor a topic that is hard for me. (Yes, even tutors and teachers find certain topics difficult!)

Here's how I cope:

I begin reviewing well in advance. Cramming makes me even more anxious, so I start reviewing early, when the pressure is off.
I use multiple sources. I like watching the videos on Khan Academy because I can just let them roll while I passively absorb some of the material. And I can watch as many times as I want (I "get" more with every viewing). I also read my textbook. Multiple explanations of the same material helps me understand it better.
I go for understanding, not just rote learning. If I can really wrap my brain around this stuff and "own it," I'm going to feel much more confident than if I just learn to plug numbers into some formulas.
I take breaks. This allows the material I just studied to sink in, and it gives me a chance to settle down and let my anxiety level come back to normal.
I deal with my anxiety. When I feel anxiety rising, I stop studying and take some slow, deep breaths. Or I stretch, or take a walk to the mailbox.
I take care of myself. I drink plenty of water, and I eat healthy foods to fuel my brain. Skipping meals can dull thinking and produce headaches, while sugary foods can cause energy spikes and crashes that make anxiety worse.

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