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The Blood, Sweat and Tears of Middle School Math

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.

Yet, middle schoolers are still young. Most are still impulsive and prone to carelessness; they rush to get their homework done and they hate taking time to read instructions, check their work, and slow down on tests.

This means that middle school math tests can come back awash in small errors: arithmetic blips, misplaced decimal points, half-remembered fraction rules, dropped negative signs. Parents often observe that “he gets the concepts but makes silly mistakes.” But accuracy and attention to details are just as important to being a good math student as is “getting it,” and the middle school  years are the right time for instilling these habits of mind.

A “reminder tent” can help train your student into remembering all those important little details.

Factor in the rampantly social nature of middle schoolers. Tweens are listening to the teacher with half an ear while mostly tuned to the undercurrent of peer dynamics pulsing through the classroom, and often leaving math class with only fuzzy notions as to what the lesson was about.

Once home, many then do their homework “together,” sharing answers via cell phone and missing out on the opportunity to confront and work through their own confusions.

Finally, many middle schoolers are receiving letter grades for the first time and working to digest these grades into their still-fragile sense of self.

Am I “really” an A student?

What does it mean that I got a C in math?

Should I try harder?

Maybe I am just dumb and ought to give up! 

And, of course:

What will my friends think of my grades?

How do my grades compare to theirs? 

No wonder middle school math students often feel confused, frustrated and overwhelmed!

Here are my suggestions for parents:

  • Don’t be alarmed, but don’t be complacent, either. These middle school years matter! It is now that students should be honing their basic math skills and developing the good study habits and attention to detail that they will need in high school and college.
  • If your child “hates math” these days, it doesn’t mean she’ll always hate it. Encourage her to work hard and become competent, and math may become her favorite subject in a year or two. Mastering a difficult subject builds character and boosts self-esteem.
  • Make sure your student is doing his homework independently (not online with buddies); the best study location is the dining room table (not the bedroom).
  • Make sure she is checking her homework; the odd-numbered answers are usually given in the back of the textbook.
  • If he is confused, help him read through his notes, any online notes the teacher provides, and, especially help walk through the examples in his textbook. Learning how to use a textbook is a critically important skill!!
  • Check in with your child’s teacher and ask for suggestions.
The Blood, Sweat and Tears of Middle School Math

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2015). The Blood, Sweat and Tears of Middle School Math. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Feb 2015
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