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Math Study Skills -- Math Journals

I'm sure that by now, those who have viewed my profile are wondering what a woman getting her grad degree in English is doing tutoring high school and elementary math. From an early age, my parents taught me the importance of study skills. While this is all well and good, as I got older I realized that from the teaching perspective, having this knowledge is only truly useful if I can explain to others how they can also create good studying habits. The secret to success in any subject is willingness to study, and lots and lots of patience. While a student may never get straight A's in every math course they ever take, a student can still strive toward and maintain their own consistently best grades possible by studying. This being said, studying for math is not quite the same as studying for liberal arts classes. Also, not every student will find the methods I propose to be a magical fix-all, but they should be helpful in leading the student towards figuring out which methods of study work best for them personally.

At some point, we've all been told that the best way to study is to take good notes. Unfortunately, most of us were taught that as long as we write down everything the teacher said, and review it over and over before the exam, everything will be fine. This is not the case with math, especially at the middle and high school levels. One way to overcome this hindrance in math note-taking is to write a math journal, or process notebook as I've heard some call it. In a math journal, the student explains in his or her own words the steps and logic that were used in order to arrive at the answer/conclusion to a math problem. This approach helps the student to use problem solving skills, and to recognize what went wrong and what went right during the solving process. Of course, it is also important that a teacher, tutor, or able adult checks to make sure that the answers to the problems are indeed correct before a student writes a journal on their answer(s). This exercise also connects math concepts to concepts of communication and writing skills, proving that math and the liberal arts are not so divorced from one another as a student may think. Also, when the student goes back to study, he or she should be encouraged to do new but similar problems and then compare new notes to old ones. Though this seems somewhat time consuming, it will get easier and more natural with time. For most of us, the first time for anything is always difficult, but with patience – both with ourselves and with others – we can always at least try.