Are you struggling with Math? In this episode, Ralston will talk about things students should keep in mind when learning mathematical concepts as well as some tips for what students should focus on understanding. Read the transcript below:
Hey everyone Ralston here, owner of Strive Academics and welcome to Ahead of the Curve episode four where I’ll be talking about simple tips and strategies that students can use to stay on top of their math skills. So before I get into that, some quick news. I’ve mentioned before that we live stream to YouTube, Instagram live, and Facebook every Wednesday at four… or at 11:00 AM, but, in addition to that, Ahead of the Curve is now live on all your podcasts feeds. So wherever you get podcasts, whether it’s Apple podcast, Stitcher, and many other places, you can now find us available there. To double check and see, just go to our website at striveacademics.com/podcast and you’ll be able to see Ahead of the Curve wherever it’s available, as well as a more polished version of this podcast than the live stream is. So I wanted to talk about why math in the first place, because it’s a question that a lot of students have when ever it comes to math.
Why do I need to learn math?
You know, a lot of us struggle with math concepts. A lot of us struggle with that way of analytical thinking where we’re trying to wrap our heads around how to do certain calculations, whether it’s for more advanced math and especially when it comes later on, when even when it’s something simple like doing mathematical problems more quickly. And so I get this question all the time, why do I have to learn math? And the simple, long and short answer of it for me, I think that in addition to some real world applications where math can be really useful for you… It’s great just for working on those same analytical skills that I’ve mentioned that we all kind of struggle with. And so math is a great way for teaching you how to reason through problems and work on those critical thinking skills. Allows you to build strategies to take apart those pieces of the puzzle and walk through it systematically in order to reach a particular answer.
And it helps you gain a greater understanding of how many variables interact with each other in the real world and beyond. So, tied to that, many students might wonder, well, are we really going to need to use these concepts in the future? Like when am I ever going to need to know the Pythagorean theorem or know something about equations? Well, the truth is that in some ways you might not; you might not need all of those particular concepts beyond college and beyond just your general studies, but there are many concepts in many of the mathematical fields that you can find use for in the real world. Like I mentioned before, math is a great way to work on those analytical skills. And so starting with the basics, math is a great way to train that up. Just shore up your way of thinking to allow you to process information more quickly and grasp a better understanding of the world around you.
There’s of course, things that we use in our day to day life. Of course we are always adding and subtracting and multiplying things. So simple things like arithmetic and maybe a little bit of basic algebra – almost everyone has a use for it. But you might ask, why would I need to know how to do that myself when I have access to a calculator in my phone? And one of the reasons is it just allows you to… not necessarily needing to know how to do it for yourself because again, we do have many wonderful tools that can help us with a lot of those basic issues and problems nowadays. Not only are those tools available to us, but with learning those simple concepts, it’s more about shoring up your ability to process that information quickly. When you understand how to do things quickly, like do some simple two digit multiplication and so on, you aren’t as reliant on tools to help get you by.
And it’s something that I see often when I’m working with students where they rely on their calculator for everything and get stuck on some simple problems. That’s not necessarily detrimental to you later on, but it can really harm you, especially during the school days as I’ll talk about a little bit later because, well, part of what you need to learn to do is to understand information quickly and process it quickly. And when you’re reliant on the tool to do all the work for you, you’re not going to be able to work through those problems in the time that you need. And so every time you get stuck having to rely on a tool for the simple stuff or every time you have to round or do something else, it takes a little bit more time to do the overall problem, especially when it’s something a lot more complex like when we get into trigonometry or calculus and so on.
So when you are struggling to do some of the basic things, it makes the harder things, not necessarily more complicated, but it definitely adds a little bit more pain as it makes things take way longer than it actually needs to. Obviously arithmetic where you’re always adding, subtracting, multiplying things pretty much, maybe not on a daily basis, but there’s typically some kind of use for it in the week. When it gets to algebra – Take for example, going to the grocery store – one way algebra can help you there is to save a little bit of money by calculating unit prices. Say for example you want to figure out whether you should buy a smaller package of items or a larger packet of items or maybe it’s something between a single pack of chips and the family size. Well you might want to calculate what is the value of the bucks that I’m actually [using for] purchasing… because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but bigger doesn’t always mean better. I’ve noticed a few times where I’ve gone to the grocery store and I’ve calculated where – you know – I’ve taken the overall price and divided it by the amount of ounces or units that are in that package.
Sometimes it doesn’t always add up. Sometimes you are paying more for something that is supposed to be the value pack and that’s one of the big ironies of sometimes the way things are priced. Sometimes when you buy in bulk, you actually do end up paying more. Now this is usually not the case, but it is something that you can avoid by not only paying a little bit more attention to your surroundings there, but also by using a little bit of basic math. In addition to that, uh, I’m taking a look at our website. Take for an example. If I wanted to say calculate something like interest, say it’s a simple loan that I want to take out or if I wanted to take something out with compounding interests. Well, knowing the variables such as the interest rate I’m paying, how long the loan is supposed to be and the other variables that come into play, I’m able to calculate and properly put it in my budget in order to understand what the actual amount of money I will pay in the future will be.
Now a lot of loan terms, we’ll probably give you some estimate or, or the actual figure that you’re going to pay in the long term, but it’s something that you might want to be able to double check and that’s just one of the other ways that you can use this for yourself. So, going on to geometry now: geometry I find is just useful for things like spatial awareness – not only understanding different shapes but also say for example, one of the examples that comes to the top of my mind is using it for something like calculating square footage. So same thing with the price that you might want to pay for – say renting an apartment or buying a house – you might be interested in knowing how much are you paying for the amount of space that you have. Let’s say for some reason that you have the dimensions but not the exact square footage or maybe some new information comes into play, which changes the official figures that you’ve gotten.
Perhaps there was a new addition or something like that. Well you would be able to calculate just how much space is here using a simple thing like being able to calculate the (this would fall under compound shapes or irregular shapes, finding the areas of that)… and so you could do something like divide the space that you have up into its component shapes like squares and triangles and so on. And then what you could do is you could figure out the area of each of those spaces to figure out, okay, how much space do I have? And then you can figure out how much per square feet am I actually paying for.
Something like statistics, I think, you know, many of us don’t go onto advanced statistics where of course it’s used for figuring out all sorts of models when we’re trying to learn things on a bigger stage. So governments, many organizations use all types of statistical calculations in order to figure out how many people are in a particular area. What kind of… say for business, how many people are in the area, what kind of profit can I expect for my business? And so on. For many of us, statistics comes into use in just being able to understand the basic ideas and the fundamentals behind it and being able to more deeply understand the information that’s presented to us. Because nowadays a lot of data is visualized in graph form and maybe some other new unique visualization such as sonification which is a burgeoning area of compiling data into sound. There’s all sorts of interesting things like that, but unless you know the basics of what information is actually relevant here, what information can I take at its face value and needs to be taken with a grain of salt? Having a basic idea of what kind of calculations should have gone into figuring out those models will help you gain a better grasp of what is actually quality information.
And then of course, going into more advanced mathematics like calculus and so on. Honestly, many of us don’t use this in the day to day, but if you have an interest in a more advanced field, especially something in the STEM field where you’re crunching a lot of data, doing data analysis, then this is where it’s going to come into play. The way this affects us is that calculus, kind of hand in hand with some statistics, can be used for modeling things that have a lot of unknown variables, and when we want to understand things that are much more complicated problems, well that’s kind of where it comes into play. So enough about the background I wanted to go into just things, tips, strategies that students can use to actually improve their math skills.
How to approach learning math
So some things to keep in mind when you are taking a look at a mathematical problem, something that you don’t understand. First is just to understand your struggle. What are the areas in which you find that difficult to understand those problems. Until you understand that it’s going to be incredibly difficult to get any sort of help to fit your needs. Sometimes this can be hard as you might be given a concept – perhaps on the textbook or where it’s just a given by the unit – but oftentimes if you’re a student, you have some idea of what the content is called, whether it’s functions, systems of equations, whether it’s Pythagorean theorem or doing something with some simple trigonometric functions… You’ll probably have some idea of what it’s called, and, if not that, then try to at least find a way to distill the information to where you can explain it to someone else because that’s the first step: being able to at least explain where you need the help so that you can start searching for resources either on your own or you can ask for the help that you need.
Second, and this is probably the most important tip of today, it’s to not get discouraged. A lot of students, once they start approaching those harder math concepts, they sometimes can withdraw and feel that just because they didn’t get it on the first try that they’re dumb or that there’s something wrong, and the case is that that’s just not true. Some people pick up math particularly easy, but for a lot of us, math can also be a little bit difficult. Some of the areas that you might find [easy], someone else might find increasingly challenging to pick out. Some people are just great at math and other people are great at picking out details from a story and understanding how to infer the emotions and consequences of the events in the story. Some people just don’t get how those kind of things connect with one another.
So don’t get discouraged if things are difficult, and this really goes for any kind of field, anything that you are studying or trying to do or attempt, because it’s necessary to persevere and to keep working on it. With hard work comes improvement. It might not be a direct correlation where the certain amount of hours that you’re willing to put in will give you the direct results that you want, but I’m positive that when you keep working at something, you can get better and better. For example, I never really loved math when I was a student. In fact, I would pretty easily say that I hated math growing up in middle school and high school, especially in college. I did everything that I could to avoid math, but it’s now something that obviously I use on a day to day basis as I’m teaching students.
One of the greatest drawbacks for me was that I just didn’t understand the concepts. It wasn’t presented to me in a way that really made sense for my brain, but once I took some time to step back and started reteaching myself some of the concepts, it made a little bit more sense. So now I tried to condense those complex answers and show all the different ways that the math that students go over can apply to them in the real world and can apply to actual examples in order to check as many of those boxes as possible to show you all the different kinds of ways in which this math applies and how to understand the fundamental mechanics behind the problems besides just crunching numbers and adding, subtracting, multiplying, or doing whatever kind of function you need to do with them. So if you keep at it, it’s something Don confident that you can master as well. It’s just something that sometimes requires hard work.
Next, understand that math can be cumulative – and this will go into some of my tips later on – because if you have trouble understanding some of the more basic concepts like I mentioned up top, the more that you struggle with the basic stuff, the longer it’s going to take you to identify and to work through the more complex problems. So sometimes my students get annoyed with me when I tell them, “You’ve just got to drill how to add and subtract. You’ve just got to drill and really work on your times tables.” Because it’s those simple little that you can do where, when you work on them, it will make things worlds easier. Because it’s essential with anything – I’m confident – to work on those fundamental skills. The more solid your fundamentals are, the more easy it is to do the harder stuff.
Then use the tools that you have at hand. So with this comes… Use the resources that you have. There’s tons of free resources offered all over the internet. There’s tons of free resources that your teachers or your schools can probably offer you. Your teachers, parents, counselors, whoever are probably willing to spend time with you to help you work through the problems and the issues that you’re not understanding. And then there’s people like us, tutors and so on, and other organizations that are really rooting for you out there and who want to really see your success. Whether it’s a physical tool, something that you can do online for practice problems, or whether it’s a person who’s willing to spend time with you. There’s a lot of different tools, resources, and people out there who are willing to help you. And don’t forget that.
So last thing in this part of things that you should keep in mind is that you need to learn how to study on the clock. This is particularly as it comes to schoolwork and it’s just one of the downsides of the time constraints of studying in school. So in order to study on the clock, you need to understand that you only have a certain amount of time to get the problems done. And that means that you need to be able to solve things quickly and efficiently. So if you are not drilling yourself on being able to calculate things in a short amount of time or at least within the time that you have available, it’s really going to hinder you in your grades and the assessments and things that you want to work on in the future. That’s unfortunately just the reality of it, that there are a lot of time constraints on things that we want to get done, and ideally we would love to have all the time to work through problems and find solutions, but sometimes that’s just not available to us.
Tips for improving your math skills
So going into some tips on how students can improve… So as I mentioned, focus on those basics. Understand that you need to have a firm grasp of your fundamentals for something like algebra. It is having a firm grasp on how to handle fractions, on how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, for fundamentals on understanding basic charts if it’s going to be something like creating frequency tables and basic data skills in some classes. For something like geometry, basics such as understanding how to calculate area – understanding the different area formulas, volume formulas – understanding the difference between what perimeter or circumference, area volume: what those things measure. Obviously for more advanced classes, understand that each further level of math builds upon the previous stuff. So the reason that you learn math in a particular order is because each subsequent new level of math builds on the information that you learned in the prior class and the prior grade.
Next time drills, like I mentioned, we only have so much time, so it’s important to be able to first master those fundamentals but then work on being able to work through problems quickly and efficiently. Next, understand word problems. These become more prevalent more and more as you get up into the older grade levels – your 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grade and so on – I’ve been seeing a lot more word problems in math textbooks and the problems that students are supposed to approach. You’re going to see a lot of this in test prep like on the SAT and the ACT. Honestly, a lot of those tests, the math is predominantly word problems now, especially the SAT. So you need to understand not only how to crunch through the data, how to work through a simple function, but you need to also understand how does this actually apply in a real world scenario. like some of the examples I gave you with identifying the square footage of the space, learning how to calculate some interest, learning how to understand how all of those different components work together. And so there are couple of quick tips and strategies that you can use in order to break apart what words mean what. That’s something that’s essential to get a grasp on., and I’ll do a video about that a little bit later.
Next, going with your fundamentals, shore up your mental math skills because you cannot rely on tools all the time in order to help you work through the problems. So you need to understand basic things as, you know, you definitely shouldn’t be using a calculator for really… I would say anything less than three digit math. For multiplication, you really shouldn’t use it for anything less than two digit numbers. And so you should have a basic understanding of your multiplication tables, maybe some of the common core methods of how to break apart numbers, and even approach those larger problems in your head. There are some easy shortcuts, which again, I’ll talk about in another video.
So before I wanted to give you the resource of the day, and it’s actually something that we’ve put up recently on our website. So on striveacademics.com/connect, we’ve added a grouping of pretty much all the resources that we provide. It’s going to be updated a little bit more with some additional resources. I don’t believe things like our worksheets have been added yet or the scholarship database, but it’s basically a one stop shop where you can see an overview of everything that we provide: that includes this podcast and includes some information about our services. Again, some of the resources and tips that I mentioned here as well as some of the most popular content that we’ve put out on our blog and elsewhere.
So that’s all I have for today guys. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast now in your podcast app, Apple podcasts, or wherever else you listen to your podcasts. If you like a more streamlined version of this podcast, the podcast feed is the place to be where it’s a little more cleaned up, the audio is a little bit clearer, and it might be a little bit easier to follow. Sometimes I stumble over my words, but it’s a great resource. I’ll be putting out more of this with the live stream coming every Wednesday at 11:00 AM and the podcast episode in the regular feed will be available the week after that. So the podcast episodes in the podcast players will be available the week after the live stream comes up. So next week I’ll be talking about simple tips and strategies that students can use for reading and reading comprehension, and I look forward to talking to you a little bit more about that. Have a great week guys.
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6 Things to Keep In Mind If You Struggle With Math
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