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# "WHY" is the most important question in learning math.

There are a multitude of reasons why students struggle in mathematics, but nearly all of the methods for teaching mathematics, textbooks included reinforce a very negative technique...memorize.  Most students try to recall formulas when they do math and then see which formulas might fit the problem.  Most students never look at the word problems when they do homework, and to make matters worse, most texts begin with robotic practice problems that reinforce the steps to memorize for solving a problem instead of the understanding involved in solving the problem.  When you learn math, it shouldn't be a race to memorize the steps or remember a process.  Math should be something understood, realized, and it should make sense what to do.  One of the most important things a student can do is to ask or discover "why" formulas work.  Besides the fact that many of the formulas you learn in mathematics were discovered centuries ago by people who applied math on a daily basis and had a need to apply it, the way that they thought about math is fascinating and it's the key to understanding math and making it more enjoyable.  If someone told you 99% of calculus is algebra, you might not believe them, but it's true.  Almost every calculus formula begins with just a new way of applying basic algebra.
The biggest thing a student can do in a class is to fight to discover the thinking behind the problem or the formula.  When you are solving a problem, discuss it out loud.  As you work it through, say what you are doing and why.  Act like you are explaining the problem to someone else.  When you can explain a problem, you have learned and you are ready to be quizzed and tested.  If your teacher cannot explain "why", then read the text.  How many students have to admit they only use their textbook for homework problems?  The fact is, much of the explanation is there.  However, if that doesn't work, you come to us tutors.  We do have the time to help you understand the math and not just show steps and assign homework to keep up with school calendars.  For example, many students when studying linear equations, try to memorize the slope formula, the slope-intercept formula, the point-slope formula, and standard form of lines, and then figure out which one the problem wants.  This is so counter productive because you aren't getting from the problem the true purpose of the problem.  If I told you that once you learn how to discover the slope formula, that all of the other forms of a line come from that one simple equation, you might feel relived.  Math's job is NOT to turn everyone into mathematicians.  It's job is to create an analytical process for problem solving in everyone...to teach you to think critically.  Unfortunately, the reality is that speed is the biggest negative in the educational system, but it doesn't have to be your problem if you use your tutors to gain what the system is not supplying.  Don't memorize...realize.

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Steven P.

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