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Mnemonics: overused and oversold in mathematics education

As I am tutoring students I am blown away by the over-use of mnemonics in math classes these days. It seems that mnemonics are the crutch for math teachers to avoid actually teaching an UNDERSTANDING of math - or "numbers sense". It seems that over the years that math teachers have lost their faith in students ability to learn math, or have lost their faith in their ability to teach students an understanding of math. Whatever the cause, I run into students totally confused by all the mnemonics/algorithms running through their heads. They mix mnemonics with other mnemonics. They mix up the steps in an algorithm. They forget the algorithm altogether. They misapply the mnemonics or algorithm. They are not taught basic number sense. It's amazing to watch their faces light up when they start to UNDERSTAND. Sadly the vast majority of students reach algebra, geometry and higher without achieving a solid basis of numbers sense. I am also not a proponent for mastery... read more

Recovery Plan for Failing Student

The reality is that the student may be “in over their head” and no amount of effort will get a satisfactory result. Or maybe the student does not have the time to overly focus on one course over the others even for a short time to recover from a failing grade. This is a difficult and even emotional decision but should at least be momentarily considered. Is this class a necessity? Is there the ability to drop it? If you feel recovery is possible or if there is no other open option then on to the Recovery Plan. Though I am calling this a recovery plan – this is also a “B+ to an A+” or C to a B+" plan! Strategic Thoughts 1) Understand how the final grade is arrived at in detail as this impacts strategy especially if one part is overly emphasized. Usually the “battle” is between homework and exams. Exams are usually the predominant part of the grade - so rally around the next exam, midterm or final. You need 7-14 days for this Mock Test plan below. If homework plays a predominant role,... read more

Proactive vs. Reactive - Plan for Fall -- Use Summer wisely

It's important to plan ahead - "get ahead of the game" whether planning for SAT/ACT or planning for this coming Fall, 2012. Most parents and students wait till they get an "unexpected bad grade" - then REACT. A tutor can help things turnaround at that point - but what about your other classes - do you ignore those to catch up? This is not a good situation. Pressure packed. If this happens to be the semester they are preparing and taking the SAT or ACT, or they have to prepare to take an AP exam - even more pressure. I am thinking primarily in terms of math/science. If your student can start a tough math or science course in the fall having already mastered several key fundamentals of that course, it will give them confidence, relieve stress, and move them to a higher level of understanding. Also plan ahead carefully in class selection. You want a strong high school resume, but not at the expense of a significant drop in grades. My own daughter... read more

Test Preparation – Best Practices

Test Preparation – Best Practices Start this at least one week before the math, chemistry or physics exam. What does the test cover? Sounds simple but it is amazing that many students are not sure the night before an exam. Using major topic titles, your notes, instructors’ notes, pages in the book – describe fully what the upcoming test covers. If questions come up - NOW is the time to ask the instructor exactly what is covered. I encourage you to approach the instructor – let him/her know you are actively preparing. Ask them if they have a good source of extra problems to work to prepare. They will love that you are taking their class seriously. Don’t do this to impress them – be sincere – but be aware – this could be helpful in that they might be interested in helping you. They work very hard instructing you - you probably don’t realize how much work they do when they are not in front of you in class – so you “make their day” by your behavior. Even if a... read more

Mastery...with extra problems

Extra problems are the cure to your ills. Mastery... There is a book called Mastery, by George Leonard which speaks to how those who are the very best at what they do are not naturally gifted but rather they work very diligently – repeating their craft so much that it is engrained. It is the same for math. Don’t just do you assigned homework – do extra problems. Don’t just prepare for the test – find old tests by the same teacher or others and work them in a test-like environment. When I was in graduate school, there was a statistics class, and for whatever reason I was able to find this professor’s old exams – several of them for every test. In addition to working homework problems etc., before every test, I worked ALL the tests for that topic. I could have gotten an A blindfolded! One time, the test WAS IDENTICAL to a test I practiced EARLIER the same day. It was all I could do to not start laughing. But I felt no guilt - I WAS P-R-E-P-A-R-E-D and worked hard preparing... read more

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