Research conducted in 2005 by Johns Hopkins University and the Philadelphia Education Fund revealed that as many as half of all Philadelphia high school dropouts showed signs predicting their early departure from school as early as the sixth grade. Four factors were essential in forecasting these AWOL students: low attendance, poor behavior, failing math, and failing English grades. Such research is indispensable in the fight to raise America’s educational standards and to help struggling students conquer their academic nemeses.
It’s difficult to extrapolate on precisely why so many leave school early, and why these occurrences are linked so strongly with math and English grades, specifically first grade go math. Perhaps the current school system isn’t flexible enough to accommodate different learning styles and conditions like ADHD for such difficult subjects – an argument alternative educational theorists have been raising for decades. Perhaps factors unrelated to the school environment, such as difficulties at home, are to blame. Maybe poor study techniques, and lack of assistance to correct them, are the culprits. Of course, no single explanation will do…but in my quest to find real and practical solutions, I decided to start with a factor everyone can control: study techniques. In particular, one of the hardest of them all – math study techniques.
Hey, who among us is, or was, the picture perfect student? Did we always clear a room to study, take breaks when we should have, or have what we needed on hand? How often did we get up to snack when the math homework became just a little too overwhelming? Did we always ask for the algebra help, the geometry help, or the calculus help we really needed? Math tutors could have saved us a lot of grief, but losing our pride just seemed too valuable to our adolescent hearts. Being guilty myself, I decided it was time to pull in a heavyweight for some advice.
Dr. Christine Benson, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Northwest Missouri State University, is one of the most qualified individuals in the country to recommend effective math study techniques. Having earned an interdisciplinary doctorate in mathematics and education at the University of Missouri, Dr. Benson also received a MSEd, taught math at public schools for eight years, and has been teaching math method courses at NWMSU for the past twelve. Here are a few of her top recommendations for making the grade.
(1) Study in several short sessions of twenty to thirty minutes, and then take a break! There’s only so much your poor mind can take at a time, and research proves that putting book to brain for shorter, intermittent periods, versus forcing yourself into longer cram sessions is far more effective. Plus (unlike most things that are good for you) you’ll probably find this to be a lot easier.
(2) Study everyday. Math is a bit like learning a language – it takes consistent, sometimes tedious, irritating hours upon hours of work to get the job done. It also tends to pile up with cold indifference; at every lesson, you’ll learn new concepts that count on your understanding of the ones from last time. Falling behind will just exponentialize your frustration, because you won’t have the proper tools to understand new materials. Discipline pays off! Soon, you’ll be able to understand concepts-the language of math, if you will-you never thought possible. You’ll feel like the brilliant individual you really are. It just takes practice.
(3) Don’t just memorize steps in an equation. “I know, I know,” you say. “Try to understand it – that’s what everyone tells me.” But, like it or not, it’s true. You’ll remember the formulas much better if you can understand the bigger pictures behind them and are able to integrate new information into what you already know. Reasoning through questions that do not precisely fit the models you studied, but require you to use the broader concepts from them, will also be much easier.
(4) Ask questions! Don’t be embarrassed to raise your hand and engage in a true discussion about all the whys of all these whats. You can’t fully integrate the concepts you’re trying to learn until you understand at least some of why they work and what they are meant to do.
(5) Include brain-empowering protein in your munchies. It’s all right to snack while you study, but don’t just reach for the carbs.
(6) If your eyes start to droop while pulling an all-nighter (or an all-dayer), wake yourself up with some physical activity. Get that circulation going! Take a walk, do some jumping jacks or push ups, go for a short jog – whatever it takes to change your setting and rouse your body.
(7) Duplicate the test room setting. If you’ll be taking your exam in a quiet, controlled environment (which is most likely), then study in that environment. No music, no television, no loud noises or chatty friends coming in and out to distract you. Train your brain to work with the stimuli that will be there when you test.