5 ways to make math suck less!

Math is a four-letter word that often carries a sentiment akin to our culture’s most colorful curse words. Students tend to struggle with math more than other subjects, at least that is what my students communicate to me. Often I hear people say:

“I’m not wired to do math”
“The math “gene” doesn’t run in my family”
“Some people just aren’t cut out to do math”

By no means does this list come close to being a complete list of excuses, but I think it communicates my point. There is a lot of negativity associated with mathematics, and a majority of the negativity is fueled by fear.

The purpose of this post is NOT to chastise those that struggle with math, but to offer suggestions and accountability for those that want to overcome the struggle. Becoming proficient in math is not an easy task, which is why so many people struggle with learning the material in the first place. We live in a culture where we are not allowed to fail. If we fail, then we must not be very intelligent. Well, at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

How do students overcome this unhealthy fear of mathematics? In order to change this paradigm, students (all people) must change the way this perceived failure is viewed. Earning a bad grade is not a sign of intelligence; earning a bad grade is a signal to the student that something must be changed. Identifying what needs to be changed is probably the most difficult part of this process. Throughout my career, students have come to me with a willingness to evolve, but they are not sure about the changes they need to make. While the list below is not an exact recipe for success, I think many students will find it useful. As with changing any behavior, adapting to a new methodology will take time and commitment. Although the list below has been created for college student, most of the suggestions are applicable across all grade levels.

Time Management

I hate the excuse “I’m a procrastinator, and I function better under pressure”. While this perception may feel like a reality, I’m willing to bet that this situation is not as beneficial as it might seem. I’m guilty of this too and have used this excuse to justifying my lack of organization. Effective time management can help students organize their time and help determine the best use their time. College students must become self-directed learners, and this will not happen if there is a lack of time management. Managing time well will also ground students and help them get an understanding of what is expected in regards to their coursework.

If this is too overwhelming, reach out to me, and I will help you develop a time management plan.

Form a study group

For the last three weeks, I have been encouraging my math students to form a study group so they can work through some of the material together. Sadly, most of my students are still frozen with fear and would prefer to struggle through the material on their own. Failing to overcome a fear of math will probably continue to perpetuate the student’s negative self-perception of their math ability. Yes, working with others is scary because we make ourselves extremely vulnerable. Get a group of students that you can trust, and start learning the material together.

Talk it out!

In tutor training, we talk about the importance of getting the student to verbalize their ideas. This is an activity that anyone can do regardless if they are working with a tutor or not, and talking things out is a good activity for the study group sessions. Not only should the groups verbalize the material, they should also commandeer a chalk board and put their thoughts out there to visualize. Almost every student that has followed through with this suggestion has experienced massive gains in understanding and confidence.

Use your resources

Make YouTube your best friend, and start searching for answers to your question. If YouTube doesn’t have what you’re looking for, jump to Google. It baffles me that I need to remind students that they have resources available to them outside of the textbook.

Ask for help

Asking for help is rarely an easy task, and many students avoid it at all cost. If a question comes up, ask for help. Don’t wait until the last minute either. Make sure the time management plan is set up that will allow plenty of time to seek out answers to questions.

Try these five suggestions and let me know what you think. Don’t say they don’t work if you’re not fully willing to commit to the plan. Everyone will experience a different outcome, but I have a sneaking suspicion that most of you will see positive outcomes if they implement the strategies I listed above.

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