The Special Study Requirements for Mathematics
by Carol Chandler-Wood
Math is a school subject that must be studied differently than other subjects. There are two characteristics that separate it from other courses. First, it is sequentially learned and second, it is a skill subject. In order for a student to have a more successful school year in math, he/she must first understand these two differences and then be willing to act to correct the study deficiencies.
Math is sequentially learned which means that each math topic is built upon the previously taught topics. In order to perform current math correctly, all previously taught topics must be mastered first. In other words, a student must know how to do yesterday’s math in order to do today’s math. Initially, he/she must identify the topics previously taught at school that have not yet been mastered. This is best done by having a math assessment administered to identify the “holes” in the math foundation. Once identified, the student must be re-taught the missing concepts and then practice problems until mastered so the foundation is solidified. When all previously taught topics are mastered, a student can expect to better handle the current math being taught in school. Each school day, a student is to make sure he/she has mastered the topics presented in class, and if unsure, ask the classroom teacher for clarification or call a friend, sibling, parent, or tutor for assistance. The student is to then practice problems until he/she can correctly work them without any assistance from anyone else to be thoroughly prepared for the new topics presented in class the next school day.
Math is a skill subject which means it must be practiced and drilled every day for perfection. I often ask students what sport they are involved in and then relate the skills necessary to play the sport well to math. For example, if the student were a golfer, in order to perfect driving a ball down the fairway, he/she would first be shown the proper stroke technique and would then attempt to hit the ball correctly. He/she would monitor their stroke technique to identify what was done wrong, correct the method, and then hit the ball again. This would be done repeatedly until the stroke was perfected and desired results achieved. Performing math successfully is done in the same way. A student is shown the proper method to solve the math problem and then attempts to solve the problem him/herself. If a wrong answer is derived, the student must locate where and why the process went wrong, correct the error in problem solving technique, and attempt another problem similar to the previous one. The student is to practice and drill problems until that type of problem is mastered before moving on to the next type. Math should be practiced every day in order to be mastered. The best golfers practice hitting balls correctly daily. Even if a classroom teacher does not assign math homework on a given day, the student is to look at his/her class notes from that day and re-work the problems given as examples until all can be solved correctly without looking at the notes.
By acknowledging these two different study characteristics for math and then acting upon them, a student will solve his/her math difficulties, become more successful in school math course work, reduce stress, and perhaps even find him/herself actually enjoying math!
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