Who knew what you learn in math class can actually be useful?
Math, as we all know, can be very taxing. From simple elementary arithmetic to complex algebra and calculus – where there are more letters than numbers – math poses significant challenges for children, teens and adults. It’s no different at Ludlow High.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, math is supposed to be hard. In fact, its naturally ambiguous nature is what drives learning in the first place. “Students only learn when they struggle with math,” says Gerald Martin, who has taught math for thirty years and at Ludlow High since 2012. “Always take a step back and remember that the basics serve you. good.”
However, there is something beautiful about the way we approach different mathematical problems. Indeed, mathematics is, in essence, its own language, interpreted in different ways. For example, two people can use two completely different methods to solve a problem and still arrive at the same answer, much like saying “hello” in hundreds of different spoken and unspoken languages.
As a high school student currently struggling in Martin’s pre-calculus class, I’ve had my share of struggles. Here are three tips I’ve learned over the past school year to make math class — and my life — a little easier.
#1: Don’t try to figure it all out right away
This is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from over a decade of monotonous math classes in the Ludlow School District.
When we started studying algebra, I struggled to understand how a letter could correspond to a number. It just didn’t make sense.
The light bulb moment for me was when I just accepted the fact that “x” was acting
was usually a number. I didn’t try to understand WhyI just adopted the “it is what it is” mentality.
Ironically enough, by conceding outright that “x” actually represents a numeric value, I was able to make the connection between the two. I no longer clung to how “x” could equal six. It is simply done.
“Just try what you think,” says Ryan Cruz, an LHS senior who is following AP Statistics and Honors Pre-calculus this year. “It’s better to have something than nothing, so just try not to get held back.”
I still use this lesson today in my schooling, my sports and my life. I find “it is what it is” fits right in with almost any situation I get nervous in.
Suppose I get called for a false foul in a basketball game. Getting angry would probably make things worse for me and my team. Instead, if I simply accept the call, I put myself in a better position to succeed.
Getting upset and getting upset causes more harm than good. Usually, if we go with the flow, the important points are easier to identify with hindsight – and, more importantly, the path to success becomes clearer.
If you’re having trouble understanding something new, make sure you’re not trying to take it all in at once. To add to the many clichés in this section, they didn’t build Rome in a day, so give yourself a break. Determine the “why” later if necessary.
#2: Find role models
Patterns are everywhere. They are intertwined in everything we see, touch, hear, yadda, yadda, yadda… you get it. They are everywhere, including in math.
“Mathematics is about finding the patterns,” says Martin. “That’s why I suggest playing a game of SET every morning, to wake up that part of your brain. Even word games like Wordle serve that purpose.
In fact, mathematics is pretty much everything patterns. For example, multiplication is just repeated addition. By breaking a problem down into patterns, it becomes easier to understand.
Take the base expression of 3 x 6.
3 x 6 equals 3 added six times, or 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3, which equals 18. It’s simple patterns like this that can help understand different mathematical concepts of different degrees of difficulty.
Finding patterns doesn’t just apply to the mathematical realm, however. Patterns are the fundamental way we as humans make sense of the world around us, hence why they are so appealing to the eye.
Language, music, people: role models play a huge role in how we see the world. A commonly used pattern is a daily routine, which helps take the guesswork out of your day and leaves you with more energy to focus on more important things.
Like in math, dividing your days into patterns can make your life even more enjoyable.
#3: Track your progress (and reward yourself periodically)
I’m willing to bet you’ve already been told to catalog your progress.
However, based on my personal experience, I’m sure you’ve gone through a process similar to the one I followed: write a few entries in a notebook, forget about it in a week, and end up ending up exactly where you have started.
Unfortunately, people lose sight of how beneficial tracking their progress is, not just in the classroom, but also in their work, home, and themselves.
For example, keeping all my math quizzes from previous years, I have a running model that shows how my math skills increased in my second year. It’s rewarding to watch; I know how much work I put into studying and making sure I understood the material. This motivates me to continue my school habits in my current senior classes.
It can also be beneficial to divide homework and lessons into chunks.
“If I don’t understand something, I try to figure it out piece by piece,” says Emre Karaarslan, another senior classmate of mine who is taking AP Calculus AB and AP Statistics this year. “If I skip something without fully understanding it, I feel like I’m lost in the following sections.”
In short, seeing how my math skills have increased month over month has given me the desire to keep improving, as well as keeping myself organized and on track for success.
Now imagine if we applied this to everything we do.
If you want to adopt a healthy lifestyle, you can track your weight from week to week. Provided you take the necessary steps, you should see small wins every week in the form of decreasing numbers (even if what you see in the mirror is what really matters – the scale can be deceiving).
From there, you can set a goal. When you reach this goal, you can reward yourself with a cheat day to commemorate your hard work.
By recording your progress, you start to notice the small wins more. We’ve all been told to “enjoy the little things in life,” but sometimes they get overshadowed by bigger, more pressing things. And that’s okay – take a break once in a while to appreciate how far you’ve come in everything you do.
Mathematics, though rendered redundant by smartphone calculators in all professions outside of finance and STEM, provides us with important life skills and lessons to incorporate into our routines.
Problem solving, critical thinking, conditioning to do the same monotonous, unsatisfying job for most of your life (yikes): math plays a vital role in our ever-changing world.
As a teenager, I always wonder how one of the things I learn at LHS, like exponential equations and centrifugal force, can possibly help me as an adult. I’m sure most of you share my skepticism.
Maybe all we have to do is take a step back, connect, and enjoy the little nuances life has to offer.