2008-11-14 / Columnists

Ken's Math Korner

Why Is Math So Hard?
Commentary By Ken Rochelle, MBA

I firmly believe: Success in math is attainable for all! One reason why students find math to be hard is because it is often not taught correctly, and for the most part, not studied correctly either. The key to success in math is building a strong foundation upon which to grow. Math needs to be learned step-by-step, topic by topic. There is no point in moving on to a harder topic without knowledge of the first.

In the fast paced school curriculum, there is very little time to review prior material. When a student does not fully understand a particular topic, it is up to the student to seek additional help. In most cases, this doesn't happen, and the student then becomes more and more confused and discouraged. The further behind a student gets in math, the harder it becomes for him or her to catch up.

Today, students are promoted from one grade to the next, even if they are not fully prepared for the next level of learning. While there is a variety of reasons this happens, it is not the focus of my commentary. I'll just say that until we stop pushing kids into classes they aren't ready for, the education crisis in this country will continue to get worse.

Many students have suffered such disappointment and frustration in their experience of math that they find it to be simply a chore, just something to get through. This often causes a student to rush through his or her math homework, and declare it to be "done" as quickly as possible. The student doesn't check it, and certainly doesn't think anymore about it. The next day, the teacher will typically review the homework very quickly, and just move on to a new topic. Math needs to be learned in the same way that a musical instrument is learned. It requires a tremendous amount of daily practice, review, and most of all, encouragement.

Students need to be shown that math can be enjoyable. They should be engaged in some sort of math on a daily basis. It may not be enough to do a few homework problems and close the book. It's something that needs to be thought about and explored in ways that leave the student feeling involved and accomplished.

Practice Questions:

ALGEBRA: If 2y - x = 8, and 3x - y = 1, what is the value of x?

SAT QUESTIONS: A drycleaner charges $2 for up to 3 pounds in weight of clothes, and 30 cents per pound or part thereof up to a maximum weight of 10 pounds per load. What is the cost in dollars of cleaning 6 ½ pounds of clothes?

Have something to say, contact Ken at kenrochelle@gmail.com. For the solution(s), visit www.kenthetutor.org.

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