Your math skills stink (but not after reading this)!
Written by Oklahoma DaVinci scholar, Director of Launch Academy, and University Guest Speaker
Forget those “two trains leave a station at the same time” problems. Math can be easy!
Wait, wait! Stay! I’ll show you!
Math doesn’t have to be hard but too many times students (and also teachers) make it so! I’ve heard students say so many times “I wish I was back in pre-algebra” or “I wish I was back in 3rd grade.” Why? Because they understood what they were doing and had confidence in their success. It was later down the road that schools took away our nice counting blocks and cardboard paper and replaced them with notebook paper and a strange, foreign language of x’s and y’s.
Here is the biggest reasonmost students struggle in math:
They never made the language transition!
That’s it! It’s not that you don’t have a “math brain” but that nobody ever taught you how to make the connection. Algebra, Geometry, and our everyday spatial math are all explaing the same concepts – the only difference is the language used to describe it. If I say to somebody “I really need a bathroom” in America, I’ll be able to solve that problem – we both speak the same language. But if I said that in Iceland, chances are I would have a very uncomfortable stay. And learning how to switch your thinking pattern is all it takes to take you from mediocre to jedi level.
“Oh please, Dominick! Please tell me how I can make this life-changing switch!
I want to be a Jedi too!”
Of course, I’m going to tell you! These 5 simple steps will get you started on the road to becoming a mathematics machine!
Step #1: Retrace your learning
Try to remember what grade you were in that you did well in math. If you can’t remember, try to go through some exercises from previous years (www.khanacademy.org has free exercises you can do that go from basic arithmetic to pre-calculus). Once you do that, then…
Step #2: Isolate the problem
It was the next year that something caused you to go down in math. Was it the teacher? Was the material covered too quickly? Maybe it was you and you didn’t really care, so you didn’t try. If it was the latter, that’s great – because you can fix that! Once you uncover that struggle year, then begin practicing some problems from it using the next step…
Step #3: Create a mindmap
Create a what?? A mindmap is simply a drawing that connects various concepts. Created by psychologist Dr. Tony Buzan, it’s been used in virtually every field and career to some extent in order to connect ideas. You start by drawing the math concept you feel pretty solid with, whether that’s finding X or maybe solving proportions (don’t do 1+1, unless you really have lost that much). From there, you create a branch connecting it to another idea and write how they connect along the branch.
An example would be, if I started with decimals (everybody likes them) and I thought “ok, well decimals are parts of a whole,” so I’d draw a picture of a circle with maybe a slice shaded in. I could then draw another line saying, “Percents are parts of wholes too,” and then create another circle called “Percents.” I can then draw a direct connection between percents and decimals and maybe write “Cents just means 100, so 25% is just .25.” The mindmap then begins to grow…
Step #4: From Mindmap to Word-Symbols
This is the crucial step that most people miss because either a) they’re too lazy or b) school never taught them. With each connection of major ideas (Decimals to Percents), you write in your own words what you would do to solve it (“Well, I just move the decimal over to the left two places to convert from percents to decimals…”). By creating your own words, you’re creating new synapses in your memory to draw from that are much stronger than the ones formed by simply hearing something. You now have the tools to think on your feet…
Step #5: Deciphering the Teacher Code
I will admit, you just got had a “Mr. Miyagi” experience (that’s a reference from The Karate Kid). The reason you made this mindmap is to prep your brain to do this automatically. It may still take some conscious effort at first, but eventually you’ll be effortlessly connecting new topics the teacher is going over to previously mastered concepts. Woah.
Of course, the Launch Academy program already uses these and other powerhouse methods, but If you put these into practice, I guarantee your math class will take on a whole new dimension. You have the tools now to become a mathematics titan. Happy Solving!