There are various types of questions that math students ask me and one could qualify them into various categories.. There are the almost rhetorical type questions such as 'what do we need to know this for?' Or 'Do you ever need this in your daily life?' These questions are often posed because students are struggling or are resistant to the practice required to understand and to continue moving forward in math. The next type of question deals specifically with the specific topic at hand. The third type seeks to understand the underpinnings of math: why it works, how it came about and so on. I had a question of this type the other day. A student was asking where the concept of degrees came from and we discussed it's possible roots in that there are approximately 360 days in a year and that the earth moves approximately one degree each day around the sun. A fourth type actually aims at advancing math itself! I've had some of these questions, where students actually aim to come up with new mathematical formulas and they run them by me.
I think there is a part of all of us that likes extremes. We all "ooh and ahh" when someone completes a marathon, or goes on an all raw food diet, or pulls an all nighter to cram for an exam. However, it's the little things done regularly day in and day out, or week in and week out, perhaps seemingly insignificant but which really add up to the tangible results that we seek. (Uh oh, prepare yourself, here comes the segue to studying and succeeding in math.) Math, unfortunately, is not just one class. Wouldn't that be great if it was? Imagine telling your friends: "I took that class, it was really easy, I Aced it!" Alas, we have to keep working at it. Each year we have to build on what we have learned previously. Luckily, throughout the math curriculum we keep cycling back around to revisit past topics at a more advanced level but also giving you the chance to pick up things you didn't understand or only understood very shallowly. If you have given yourself the idea that you aren't good at math perhaps it's because you(currently)don't really understand what is going on with all those numbers, symbols, diagrams, etc. Maybe you don't understand what is being asked or don't know where you have been or where you are going next with the math you are learning. I argue that math is like a large tree with many branches but what most students are actually learning is the main "trunk." We start at the base of the tree and learn the math language it's symbols, operations, etc. Then we learn applications(i.e. story/word problems). We do go down some of the large side branches to give you the ability and appreciation of how to use math in different ways but we generally return to the trunk in short order to go onward and upward. Aim to really know the trunk of the math tree. When students get their tests back the reason they often get a lower than expected grade is not because they didn't understand the new concepts its that they made the errors that should have been mastered lower down on the "trunk." So before I go off the deep end with this analogy creating a forest out of every subject let me just say that there are no secrets, per se. Practice a little bit every day or every week. Build on what you know, if you miss something go back and fill in the gaps. Remember that the math skills you take for granted you had to learn at one point and the math you don't understand now you can learn the same way too. You can continue to improve your understanding, skills, and efficiency. Seek out help from friends, classmates, parents, teachers, and a tutor. They can help you to see things from different angles, approaches, etc. to help make math understandable, easier and your own. If I can be of assistance to you let me know. Practice for the ACT don't just take it, study for your tests, take it seriously(but not too seriously, a relaxed but focused mind learns better) have fun, realize at this stage we are not coming up with or discovering math we are just learning what mathematicians discovered hundreds of years ago and wanted to share with everyone!
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