Math is cumulative.
Step by step, our Shoreline, CT students build the fundamentals necessary to succeed in math.
If the fundamentals of math are not fully understood, the student’s foundation for learning remains weak forever.
For that reason, students who do poorly in middle-school math in Madison usually do worse in high school math at Daniel Hand High School in Madison.
And, unfortunately, those who do not do well in high school math almost always do poorly in SAT or ACT math.
Supplemental math programs have led to some of our best math success stories.
For example, we tutored a student from Old Lyme, CT who attended Xavier High School in Middletown, CT. He did well in every subject except math.
We’ll call him Mike.
Mike had almost all straight As but consistently struggled to reach Bs in math.
He had also begun to build up a resistance to math. “I’m not good at math,” became his self-fulfilling prophecy before the start of every math quarter.
Because Mike wanted to apply to competitive colleges, his parents decided that something had to change.
We set up a tutoring summer program in our office in Old Saybrook, CT and quickly discovered that Mike’s arithmetic fundamentals were weak in areas such as ratios, percentages, and fractions. His basic geometry and algebra skills were also poor.
We discovered that he had learned just enough in school to do reasonably well on his math tests. But much of the material was not committed to his long-term memory.
Our program centered on grounding Mike in the fundamentals necessary to do well in math. His initial attitude towards math was undeniably negative, but his perspective gradually improved as his knowledge and mastery of the subject increased.
In addition to reviewing concepts from the past that would be helpful for the future, we gave Mike an advantage by teaching the beginnings of Algebra II, which he would take in the fall.
Many students have real trouble in Algebra II, not only because their grasp of fundamentals is challenged, but also because Algebra II has an enhanced level of difficulty.
When Mike entered Algebra II at Xavier High, he had both additional confidence and additional skills. When he got his grades, Mike and his parents were delighted with the A minus he received and stunned later by his strong scores on the PSAT, which well exceeded their expectations.
We tend to focus on cost-efficiency for our clients. For that reason, we are cautious about suggesting that tutoring is necessary.
Math, however, creates different demands.
In several cases in the last few years in Madison (Daniel Hand High School), Guilford High School, and East Lyme High School, we have successfully saved students from failing either Algebra I or Algebra II.
In the cases cited, students were really struggling with math and receiving grades that were leading to Fs in math.
While we do not want to create stress on parents of high school students, we do need to point out that Fs on permanent records are definitely noticed by admissions officials.
Math also has a way of creating a feeling of stupidity among students. Since math is a logical/analytical subject, many students will label themselves “dumb” if they do poorly in math.
We have made great efforts to recruit top math teaching talent in the Shoreline and Southeastern CT area. We know that our students greatly benefit from regular tutoring and test prep with our outstanding math tutors.
While we did not turn our struggling math students into would-be engineers, every one of them successfully passed their courses.
“I am just stupid in math,” a student from Stonington High School in Stonington, CT recently said while explaining her algebra woes.
In comparison, we almost never hear a student say “I am stupid in English.” Poor math performance affects self-confidence.
Many students seem to link their math performance with IQ more than other subjects. The objective nature of math is the likely reason. Other students demonstrate with certainty that they have better math skill in a way that reading, for example, is not overtly illustrated. In class, when students raise their hand to answer: “47”, there is something different conceptually than when other students discuss literature.
We recently were working with a student from Guilford High School in Guilford, CT. We’ll call her Andrea. She had convinced herself that she was “stupid in math” and was now in the process of convincing herself that she was “stupid in everything”.
Math was really the only subject where she was floundering but it provided evidence, in her mind, that, in her words, “I’m just not smart.”
That’s tough for us to hear as teachers but this is heart-breaking for parents. Andrea’s mom had called us, in part, because she felt that she was failing as a parent. “More than anything, I want my kids to feel good about themselves. I always tell she is smart. But, it doesn’t seem to work anymore.”
Our philosophy centers around mastery and, in relation to self-esteem, we have preached that mastery is what creates self-esteem.
We, too, could tell Andrea that she’s smart and try to convince her through other motivational strategies that her abilities in other areas illustrate her brainpower. But, in the face of getting Ds in math, and suffering on a daily basis in math class with evidence – in her view – of her lack of intelligence, our words would only serve as a temporary band-aid.
We had to prove to her to Andrea that she could do better. In doing so, we would demonstrate that she was not stupid. We started with the basics. It became clear that she had never mastered the basics of algebra. She had likely crammed enough to pass the class. But, she struggled to recall the most basic structure of how to solve simple equations. For example, we would show her 2x = 10 and she would say the correct answer: “5” but when we showed her 2x = 73, she did not understand that she needed to, in math terms, “multiply each side by the reciprocal” or “divide by the coefficient” and in layman’s terms for this problem, divide by 2. She had been doing problems in her head and estimating answers but had not mastered the mechanics of equations.
Of course, Andrea felt stupid when she had to do more complex algebraic operations such as foiling.
We dove in to both master the basics and build her confidence. Andrea gradually mastered our systems for mastering math. She could see that if she followed procedure – she was good at straight line direction following – she could move forward in problems.
Soon enough, two things happened. She began to do better in math. Her D became a B-. More importantly, the facts proved to her that she was not stupid.
Andrea’s mom actually cried when she heard her daughter say “I am not dumb. I just need to learn more stuff.” So true, for all of us.