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Math made easier: advice from experts

Submitted by Hillary Perkins on March 14, 2013 – 5:17 pmOne Comment

Math can be a joy for some students and a headache for others.

Many students struggle with various kinds of math, including positive and negative number signs, fractions, factoring, graphing and word problems, instructors in the department of mathematics and statistics said.

In fall 2011, the success rate for college algebra, a core math course, was 59 percent, said Mellisa Hardeman, senior instructor in the department. The success rate dropped anther percentage point the following year, she said.

In fall 2012, 50 to 60 percent of pre-core math students had difficulties solving math problems, said Denise LeGrand, director of the Mac I math lab.

Ike McPhearson, math tutor, explained why students may have trouble comprehending math. One reason is that students may come from a home where education is not valued, he said.

A bad experience with an instructor can also change students’ attitudes about math.

“You can’t take yourself too seriously as a teacher,” said Hardeman. Instructors can never give a student too much help passing math, she said.

Students who took a math course in high school before going to college are less likely to struggle with math, Hardeman said. Some students go to college years after graduating high school, however, and may forget everything they learned in their math classes.

Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that can help students overcome these challenges and develop a better understanding of math.

“In order to make math easy for students, show different ways of how to understand it,” said McPherson, who has tutored high school and college students.  Another way of making math fun for students is to create different games, he said.

According to LeGrand, the most important way to become better at math is to practice math exercises for 20 to 30 minutes.

“They won’t see the results right away,” said LeGrand, ” but if they go to class and focus on work required, they will be successful and they will build confidence.”

In addition, students can get help from tutors at the math lab. Each semester, the lab hires 12 tutors, LeGrand said.

For the math-impaired, there is a new math course called Quantitative and Mathematical Reasoning. The course was designed for students who are not science, technology, engineering or mathematics majors. It focuses on practical math, for example, currency exchange rates. The course fulfills the core math requirement, in place of college algebra.

Pre-core math courses, developmental math courses students take if they do not have the prerequisites for college math classes, are becoming more successful, said Tracy Watson, coordinator for pre-core math. The success rate for those courses rose to 77 percent in fall 2012, she said. Previously, the success rate was 37 percent for a 4-year period, she said.

This semester, there are 80 math majors at the university.

“We all like how math works because it all fits together,” Watson said.

“Students who major in math develop a sense of thinking and solving problems,” said Thomas McMillan, department chair.

Once students better understand math, they will have the confidence to solve not only math problems, but problems in everyday life as well.


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