Lost in Math Class?

confused by math
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Sometimes we can get so lost in a subject that we don’t even know what questions to ask the teacher. This is a demoralizing situation that occurs most often in a math class. Why? Because math skills are like building blocks. If you fail to grasp a concept or understand a skill and move on (which happens a lot in math class), you get lost.

Ideally, you learn a skill and practice until you have a full understanding of it, and then move on to add another skill to add to your stack of understanding.

The skills you learn in elementary school set the stage for middle school. The middle school skills are necessary foundations for the skills you learn in high school, and the building blocks continue to stack into college.

Unfortunately, in a classroom situation, teachers sometimes have to progress before every single student has a full grasp of every single skill.

There are a few questions to ask your teacher that just might get to the core of the problem and help you find your bearings. If you find yourself drowning in math class—unable to keep up with others or to understand problems in your homework, you need to stop and regroup.

Question 1: What Skills Are the Building Blocks for This Lesson?

You can word this question any way you want, but the point is to determine what math skills and concepts you must understand before you can move on.

Ask the teacher to break down the problem into steps, and to name the skill or process of each step.

Some of these could include:

  • Understand commutative, associative, and distributive properties
  • Using a variable
  • Understand order of operations

When a teacher lists the various concepts or skills needed to solve a problem, you can also provide your parents with this information. This will enable a parent to help you!

As you know, parents often need a refresher to help you with math.

Question 2: How Is This Problem Similar to Other Problems We’ve Studied?

One math lesson builds on another, as we’ve established. Teachers introduce new concepts and steps by working out progressively more involved math problems in front of the class. In other words, a new math equation that is introduced by the teacher will require several old skills and one new skill.

Here’s the problem: students don’t always see the connection between the old problems they’ve worked through and the new one that the teacher introduces. They don’t recognize the fact that a new equation is just the same as the old ones—but it looks different because it involves an extra step, which changes the “shape” of the problem or the look of it.

Teachers do not realize that students don’t make connections unless a student speaks up! If you are sitting in class one day and the teacher seems to be doing a problem that looks totally foreign to you—let the teacher know. Ask how this lesson builds upon past lessons. Any time you feel lost in a math class, you should stop what you’re doing and backtrack until you’re “found” again. Then proceed slowly until you’re right on track with the teacher and the rest of the class.