Forget to Learn

A student learns that he has a test coming up sometime next week; a week goes by, and the student just now starts studying for his exam: the day before it! We’ve all been there; sometimes, it’s unavoidable, but students who continuously fall into this trap of procrastinating need to improve their study methods.

One of the best scientifically proven ways to study is through spacing assignments, known as the spacing effect. Students divide their studying time up into multiple periods, instead of all at once, which is called cramming. Cramming will help students remember information in the short run; however, they will lose this knowledge over time. Spacing has the opposite effect: it is less stressful, and students will have more time to process information and store it into their long-term memories. According to numerous studies, students who study through spacing perform significantly higher on retests compared to students who crammed.

One major criticism from learners who are new to the spacing method is that they forget what they learn. They feel frustrated because the material they spent time practicing days before they’ve since forgotten and now need to relearn. Their perception is justifiable; people are bound to forget some information, but what they don’t realize is how crucial forgetting is in the learning process.

When students must relearn material, they strengthen their neural connections involving the subject, which helps them solidify the knowledge. Ultimately, most courses in school build on previous ones, so it’s imperative for students to understand and recall information from prior units. For example, when a student enters Algebra Two, it’s assumed that they know the material from Algebra One, and the course will build on those topics. However, if the student only crammed for the Algebra One tests, then most of that material has been lost, and there are many gaps. While initially, it may frustrate students to relearn material that they’ve just studied, it’s an essential part of the learning process. Finding these gaps also exposes what the student must review more, and by doing so, they will strengthen those connections and have greater ease remembering the material later.

The opposite effect occurs during cramming; students proceed past the unit without retaining much of what they’ve learned. Students can avoid this dilemma by working on their assignments diligently, quizzing themselves without aid from their notes, and acknowledging areas that require more attention. By implementing these strategies, they’ll create the habits to succeed in whatever field they’re pursuing, from sports to law enforcement to medical school.

When to Introduce the Calculator

When Should Students be Introduced to Calculators?  I am sure that this topic could spark an interesting debate. Well, I certainly have no interest in debating, but, I would like to bring to light, my professional belief on this topic, after working with math students for almost 20 years.

First, I would like to explain theoretical mathematics as doing math independent of the world.  It uses reasoning, proof, and abstract concepts to establish truth upon truth.  While things going on in the world around us may inspire a theoretical mathematician with new ideas, the study of theoretical mathematics does not depend on the world around us.  So, some might argue that if math does not have a direct “real-world application”, then it is useless.  This is not true since even applied mathematicians draw on theoretical mathematics to solve problems related to the the world.

Research has shown that students receiving more instruction in theoretical math do better overall because they build a mathematical foundation that will allow them to extrapolate math to other real-world situations.  If math is just taught for a specific application, then the student will not be able to transfer that knowledge to another context.  Theoretical mathematics does not change. It is simply, truth.

Now, let’s get back to the calculators! What is the purpose/role of calculators in mathematics?  To make it simple, calculators are used to speed up extensive calculations involved in real-world problems.  The problem is that students who haven’t developed a strong math foundation are using these calculators for much smaller calculations that they should be doing by hand, to strengthen their grasp of numbers, or even in their head in some cases.  When students do computations by hand, they develop a feel for number patterns and a respect for mathematics.  They build a foundation of mathematics that will be evergreen, and thus withstand the test of time and any changing technology.

Consider this example:  I watched an advanced 9th grader go to her calculator to compute 105-90.  A person with a strong sense of numbers would likely “mentally” compute this by knowing that from 90, it’s 10 more to 100 and then 5 more past 100 so the difference is just 10+5 =15.  Once this skill is developed, it is certainly quicker to state this difference without a calculator!  Just in case you think this example is too “complicated”, what about watching a student perform 13-9 on a calculator?  That is not what a calculator was invented to be used for!

So, what am I suggesting?  I am suggesting that calculators aren’t really needed until a student has a solid grasp of number sense.  So solid, they won’t “forget” how to do basic arithmetic on all numbers, including integers, fractions, and decimals. So, when is this?  Well, clearly it will vary from student to student, but in general, I would go as far as to suggest not allowing calculators until at least precalculus.  And even then, limiting their use.  Even the AP Calculus exam and the SAT have “no calculator” sections!

I say to all math teachers, let’s put the pencils in student’s hands and give them lots of paper and let them DO MaTh!  There is no shortcut or tricks to learning math.  Each student has to walk the road and allow their brain to make the connections.

 

Summer Learning

Summer Learning—An Enrichment Opportunity

Summer school!  What student or parent wants to hear that?    Not too many, and that is because the term “summer school” has a negative connotation associated with it.  Usually it insinuates that the student fell short during the school year and has to use the summer to make up their loss. But what about “Summer Learning”?  Does this sound more favorable?

What Do Studies Show?

According to a 2010 study by the Wallace Foundation, just 25 percent of school-age children participate in a summer learning program.  Why should only failing students use the summer to play catch up?  Why not all students use the summer to maintain and get ahead?  I suggest that parents and students see the summer downtime as an opportunity for enrichment and learning for fun, if you will.  Throughout the school year, our students experience a lot of pressures from grades and distractions from other students and activities and rarely get to learn for the sake of learning and to be enriched.

In addition, numerous studies have shown that students forget a portion of what they have learned during the school year over the summer.  This causes many teachers to spend a lot of time reviewing skills and delaying lessons at the beginning of the year.   Students just fall behind as they try to jump back into the school year and keep up. 

Nature of Learning Math

In particular, math is one subject that requires consistent practice and repetition.  Could you imagine if you interrupted your workout routine for 2 months and did nothing?  Surely you might experience, weight gain, muscle loss, and a decrease in cardiovascular strength.  It should make sense that the same thing happens to our math skills if we don’t stay in good practice.

There are many proven benefits to summer learning.  These may include students’ grades upon their return to school, their attendance, and even classroom behavior.  Summer enrichment and learning programs can be found in many places in the community.  MaThCliX®  offers summer math lab and several enrichment classes during the summer.  Math enrichment can even be practiced at home!  You can visit https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/build-math-skills/ to learn about some ways to build up math skills around the home.

The Department of Transpo-Repetition

Take a moment and think about your greatest talent or accomplishment.  Did it come naturally to you?  Regardless of your inherent skills and natural gifts, I’d wager there’s no fluke as to why you became proficient at it?  You probably practiced it.  Even those once-in-a-lifetime achievements are not flash-pan.  It takes consistent rehearsal to master any skill, conventional wisdom pointing towards about 10,000 hours of active repetition to completely develop any proficiency, skill, or craft.  

Cognitive sciences hold that the brain retains information through the creation of neural path via a process called “rehearsal”. Building a highway incorporates this rehearsal process into a simple analogy. The first time we see a new vocabulary word or equation, the brain begins the process of cataloging that information by making a very linear path to the idea. Prefatory manipulation of that same information soon develops that road into a two-lane highway, one could think of as an ellipse.  Over time, the more we use a given fact or review a certain concept, we keep elaborating on this highway and eventually our brain adds passing lanes and short-cuts along that same highway; instead of one to and fro’ route created to reach the destination, the brain builds a myriad of possibilities to aide in our scholarly journey.

As soon as you find something you enjoy, or something that really sparks your interest, “go with it”.  Do not hesitate to find sixth gear and “put the pedal to the metal”.  As we break down individual pieces of something we begin to not simply understand what, but why.  Several highly successful entrepreneurs and artists vigorously rehearse this truly simple process:  

  1. Write. It. Down.    

Get a small notebook, and keep it and a pen on you at all times.  Pockets are for things, not your hands.  Even a simple one-word note can lock it in your “thought processor”.  

  1. Re-write.  

Did you capture everything the first time?  What was it that you really wanted to say?  

  1. Re-work.  Re-build.  Re-do.  

Was that everything you wanted to know?  Is that the only reason you wanted to know it?  Is that the last time you want to visit this?  

  1. HAVE FUN WITH THE PROCESS

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. 

Many awesome things are nonsense the first time we experience them, right?  At some point we all could not talk or form sentences, we could not write, we could not read… In grammar school we constantly rehearsed these skills, and continue to rehearse these techniques the rest of our lives.   Mastering a skill takes no more effort than continuous performance and utilization of that skill. As the saying goes: “You know how you get to Carnegie Hall, don’t ya?”  Practice.  That first draft pales in comparison to that final, proofed, and re-worked draft.  Your first solo will probably not be the best, but your last will certainly NOT be the worst.  

What is a Math Person Anyway?

What is a Math Person Anyway?

“I’m just not a math person!”  A phrase often said multiple times by students, but one that is quite false.  But, what is a math person anyway?  While math ability may be genetic to some, there are many different factors that could assist you in becoming a better math student all around. To showcase this, I dive into two factors that could help you become a more successful math student in the future:

  1. Preparation

One of the keys used to achieve the highest level of potential in a certain area of study is preparation. Athletes practice their craft everyday in order to become the best they can be. Musicians prepare their music and practice for numerous hours before ever thinking about stepping on to a live stage in front of their fans. The same principle applies when it comes to the study of mathematics. The most common quote could not be more true for math as practice truly does make perfect. Math requires being exposed to numerous problems in order to fully grasp all the ways a question could be asked to you. Without proper preparation, you are only hindering yourself from the success you could be seeing. Preparation helps take down the surprise effect whenever you’re sitting in class for a test and running through the questions. On top of that, preparation makes you feel more confident, which in turn could lead to more engagement in class or even with a tutor if you’re seeing one. This boosted confidence is just a reassurance to yourself that you’re starting to understand the concepts better and next thing you know, you yourself are slowly becoming that almighty “math person”!

  1. Organization

This principle is definitely overlooked, but ties in hand-in-hand with the skill of preparation. Students should attempt to become an organized person, as it helps in the studying process for tests and quizzes they will foresee in math. For example, a highly organized person always knows where to look back for practice problems, notes, and even homework assignments when preparing for upcoming tests and finals. This can come in handy as they will be able to not only follow along with their notes, but they’ll be able to utilize them in order to create practice tests and problems for a complete review. Organization is one of the key factors tied with any successful person in any industry, and so it certainly matters in the learning of mathematics!

All in all, I want it to be known that anybody can achieve the status of being a “math person”. These two factors are certainly not the only ones that can help benefit you in the long run, but they can be seen as the building blocks to beginning your successful math journey. It all starts with some preparation and organization and the future of your math career is all in your hands!  So next time you see that student next to you make that high math grade, remember, it’s more likely that he or she was prepared and organized and worked for that grade and is not just a “math person”.

How to Learn Math

Math is a pretty hard subject to grasp when it doesn’t come naturally to you, but there is always a way to learn. Here are a few methods that will get you through the struggle:

  1. DO Math

Time and time again we see students come in at the last minute to study for an exam. This is not a very effective way of learning. In order to truly understand math, you have to DO it. And I don’t mean just the homework, do extra! If you didn’t understand the homework fully by the time you got to the end, that is an indication that you need to search for some extra practice. If you have a textbook, this is the easiest way to find extra practice. Typically teachers do not assign you all of the problems in a certain section. Do the unassigned problems, and if the answers aren’t at the end of the book: use Google! I promise you can always find some way to check your work. If you don’t have a textbook, search the subject plus the word “worksheet” in Google. A lot of times you’ll find something that comes up and has the answers! If all else fails, ask your teacher where you could find some extra practice. They may just provide it for you!

  1. Take Notes

I know you are thinking, well duh, but some students don’t know how to take notes in math. If you aren’t already math-minded, you may not understand just an example of a problem without explanations between steps, so write down the example with the steps in words! (If you teacher is moving too fast, ask him/her politely to slow down, trust me, other students in your class with thank you for it.) Here is an example of what I mean:

Factor: 2x^+ 4x + 2

Step 1: Look for a common factor, we see that it is 2, so divide every term by 2

2(x^+ 2x + 1)

Step 2: For trinomials with a leading coefficient of 1, we can find two numbers that multiply to the last number and add to the middle number.

1*1=1

1+1=2

Step 3: These numbers become the factors!

2(x+1)(x+1)

Personalize these to fit your needs! Experiment with different methods and find what the best one for you is. If you miss something in class, make sure to ask your teacher after class or during your lunch/study hall. And if you can: email them! They are there to help you, so take advantage of all of the time you have.

  1. Keep Organized!

It helps a lot to keep your notebook and your work organized. Keep section/chapters in order with the homework, so it is easier to look back if you are reviewing. Also, organize your work by keeping steps clear and logical. If you can’t write all of your work neatly and understandable on the worksheet provided, use extra paper! It will be easier for you to understand when looking back.

  1. Review for Tests

If your teacher does not provide a review for you, just ask! Most teachers will at least give you a list of all topics that will be on the test. Take a look back at your notes, and look back on the homeworks. Choose 4 to 5 questions from each section to practice. If you get them all correct, yay! If not, redo the whole assignment. Don’t wait until the last minute to start studying for the test. Start a week before and go section by section. This will ensure that you will have time to ask the teacher questions if you are having trouble with a certain sections.

I know that math is not an easy subject for everyone, but the best way to beat a problem is by working. Never give up, and keep pushing through, one example at a time.