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## Saving Our Dropouts By Saving Math – Math Grades May Predict Who Survives High School

Research in 2005 by Johns Hopkins University and the Philadelphia Education Fund found that up to half of all high school dropouts in Philadelphia showed signs predicting early school leaving as early as sixth grade. Four factors were critical in predicting these AWOL students: poor attendance, poor behavior, failing math, and failing grades in English. Such research is indispensable in the fight to raise American educational standards and to help struggling students defeat their academic enemies.

It is difficult to extrapolate precisely why so many people leave school early and why these events are so strongly linked to grades in mathematics and English, in particular. Perhaps the current school system isn’t flexible enough to accommodate different learning styles and conditions like ADHD for such challenging subjects — an argument that alternative education theorists have been raising for decades. Perhaps factors unrelated to the school environment, such as difficulties at home, are to blame. Perhaps poor study skills and the lack of assistance in correcting them are the culprits. Of course, no single explanation will suffice…but in my quest to find real, practical solutions, I’ve decided to start with a factor that everyone can control: study skills. In particular, one of the most difficult of all – math study skills.

Hey, who among us is, or was, the perfect student? Did we always clear a room to study, take breaks when we needed to, or have what we needed on hand? How many times did we get up to snack when math homework got a little too overwhelming? Have we always sought the help of algebra, geometry, or calculus that we really needed? The math teachers might have saved us a lot of heartache, but losing our pride just seemed too precious to our teenage hearts. Being guilty myself, I decided it was time to call in a heavy hitter for advice.

Dr. Christine Benson, associate professor of math and statistics at Northwest Missouri State University, is one of the nation’s best-qualified people to recommend effective math study techniques. After earning an interdisciplinary doctorate in mathematics and education at the University of Missouri, Dr. Benson also earned an MSEd, taught mathematics in public schools for eight years, and has taught mathematical method classes at NWMSU for twelve years. Here are some of his top recommendations for getting over it.

(1) Study in several short sessions of twenty to thirty minutes, then take a break! There’s so much your poor mind can take on at once, and research proves it’s far more effective to put a book to the brain for shorter, intermittent periods, rather than forcing yourself into bouts of longer preparation. Plus (unlike most things that are good for you), you’ll probably find it much easier.

(2) Study every day. Math is a bit like learning a language – it takes constant, sometimes tedious and irritating hours of work to get the job done. It also tends to accumulate with cold indifference; with each lesson you will learn new concepts that rely on your understanding of those from last time. Falling behind will only increase your frustration because you won’t have the proper tools to understand new material. Discipline pays! Soon you’ll be able to understand concepts – the language of math, if you will – that you never thought possible. You will feel like the brilliant person you really are. It just takes practice.

(3) Don’t just memorize the steps of an equation. “I know, I know”, you say. “Try to understand – that’s what everyone tells me.” But, like it or not, it’s true. You will remember formulas much better if you can understand the big pictures behind them and be able to integrate new information into what you already know. It will also be much easier to reason about questions that don’t fit precisely into the patterns you’ve studied, but require you to use the broader concepts of them.

(4) Ask questions! Don’t be shy to raise your hand and engage in a real discussion about all the whys of all the whats. You can’t fully integrate the concepts you’re trying to learn until you understand at least some part of how they work and what they’re supposed to do.

(5) Include brain-boosting proteins in your cravings. It’s fine to snack while you study, but don’t limit yourself to carbs.

(6) If your eyes start to droop during a sleepless night (or an entire day), wake up with some physical activity. Get that traffic flowing! Take a walk, do some jumping jacks or push-ups, take a quick jog – whatever it takes to change your tune and wake up your body.

(7) Duplicate the test room setting. If you are going to take your exam in a quiet, controlled environment (which is most likely), then study in that environment. No music, no television, no loud noises or chatty friends walking in and out to distract you. Train your brain to work with the stimuli that will be present during the test.

(8) Sleep well and eat a high-protein meal before the dreaded exam. You can’t test your best if you don’t feel your best.

At least something can be controlled. Failing at anything, or even not doing as well as you know you can, can be absolutely infuriating. However, Dr. Benson has shown us that there are things you can do. If you are a parent, apply the rules. Prepare your child for success by providing an appropriate environment. If you’re a student, hey, you just got free expert advice – and you didn’t even have to let anyone know you needed it.

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