Learning math and statistics

Today's math and statistics courses have an amazing pool of learning resources available to students. The textbook can be a published hardcopy or paperback book. Or it can be in pdf format for printing out chapters at a time in hard copy. Or it can be an e-book with links to videos and simulations. Problem sets can be electronic and linked to the exact place in the text where the student can read the concepts. Problem sets can also have "Show Me How" features that walk a student through how to do the calculations. Also there can be PowerPoints that explain the main concepts and show how to do the calculations. There are online math calculators and smart phone calculator apps and flash card apps. with all these resources, however, I still find that students get stuck with math and statistics.

Why is that?

I think there are different reasons for different students. In most cases learning math is a matter of getting organized mentally and then practicing, very similar to learning a new skill like a sport. And attitude is a very important part of getting organized mentally. If a student really wants to learn to play golf he or she will persevere until he or she gets good. Or not. The player might quit. If a student really wants to learn to play a video game he or she will persevere until he or she really gets good. Or not. With video games there is lots of peer encouragement and peer recognition. Teenagers can master a video game in a seemingly short amount of time, but really he or she is putting in the hours playing the game. Teens do not read a book or watch videos or watch simulations on how to play a video game. They just play it and then ask their friends for coaching when they get stuck.

My son learned to work on computers enough to be effective as a tech support intern at a major company one summer when he was 16. He did not read books or watch videos on IT support. He just did things with computers and then asked his friends who were also doing things when he got stuck. He learned to search on the web for answers. The brightest people I know in business search for answers on the web. And if they cannot find the answers, they ask others. They do not let questions go unanswered.

So math and statistics students should approach learning those subjects the same way. Just do things, search for answers on the web or in the packaged resources that come with the course. And if you cannot find the answers, just ask. Do not expect to learn without stretching yourself, and be willing to persevere. You will get frustrated at times, but don't let frustration stymie you. Just ask someone else for help. That's what tutors are for.

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