Helping Students Excel in Math

“One should study mathematics simply because it helps to arrange one’s ideas!” – M. W. Lomonossow 

Michael Cohen is a Math teacher in Atlanta who is passionate about ensuring that every student that enters his classroom experiences success. I am impressed with his leadership and passion to ensure that not only are his students engaged, but that their families are a part of the journey. Michael has answered some questions below to share some of his insight and experience with helping students and families excel in Math.

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Q: What are the key areas that students struggle with in Math?

A: Independent practice appears to be the most area of struggle in mathematics. Many students do not respect the process with the mindset that calculators and shortcuts are available for every skill. They do not understand that the answer is the process and the development of the thinking skill versus just the final result. Furthermore, this struggle evinces most with studying and homework. There appears to be lack of motivation with learning in most classes, not just math. The motivation appears to come mostly from grades versus learning.

Q: How important is family engagement to students finding success with Math?

A: Family engagement is most important with accountability and encouragement. Often, I have noticed parents say that they were not good in math, that looks hard, or they don’t know how to do something math related, which caused discouragement with students. On the other hand, when I have seen parents hold students accountable for learning and making them do what the instructor asks of them, I have seen much progress and success. Unfortunately, for parents who frequently change phone numbers and addresses, or who do not attend parent conferences, it is difficult to reach such a parent, so encouraging a student who is struggling, cutting class, or has low motivation to learn is difficult. Without parental support, the child is left with whatever intrinsic value of education the student has. It is more problematic to teach math to students who have no to low parental support. Moreover, family and the learner should encourage the process of learning. Children get identity and esteem from parents, so their encouragement and esteem towards their learner’s ability it very important in math.

Q: In what ways have you found success in reaching students?

A: I have found success in reaching students in math by showing them how much I care about them as an individual and how relative math can be in their lives. As one who knows several household applications, financial applications and construction applications of math, I can relate math in a way that makes real life applications relevant to students for most topics in math. Furthermore, gaining rapport, which is becoming more difficult with this new generation of students, is effective; because the care you show for the student is reciprocated in them doing the assignments. Students will work for you when you show how much you care about them. Moreover, there is a saying in teaching, “Students do not care what you know, until they know how much you care about them as a person, human being.” Success in teaching math depends on the the teacher in terms of being able to balance their care for the learner and the ability to relate the math skill to the learner.

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Q: What best practices would you recommend to help more students and families find success in Math?

A: The best practices for families to help their students to succeed in math are to be resourceful, to be tenacious, to be encouraging, and to read the problem repeatedly, until the learner understands what is being asked.

There are several resources available for today’s learner. The school has tutorials which give one-on-one time with students. The internet has online tutoring and videos that can be repeatedly played for understanding to occur until the learner gains the skill. Also, a student has to persist in their efforts to learn. They should complete assignments, ask questions, and take notes that are used to guide their independent practice. Also, seeking outside help promotes the ownership of the learner’s learning and ultimately finding a way to obtain the skill. If a learner is not able to repeat a math skill independent of assistance, then the learner must persist to study and to practice. The learner must keep in mind that a process, even with learning, is a series of steps, which is the goal of teaching math – achieving in life is a process. Once independent success is achieved on a repeated basis for a skill or task, then the learner has found mastery.

Image result for black male teachersMr. Cohen leaves these final thoughts on helping students finding success with Math. Attitude is everything. The learner’s attitude affects the ability to receive information. When there is a conflict of interest with an instructor, the learner may need to change teachers; because the attitude of learning from an instructor does affect their ability to receive information from the instructor (not the ability of the instructor to be able to teach). Finally, the learner must ensure that they understand what is being asked before attempting an exercise. If a learner does not understand the question, then obtaining an answer is rarely successful. Remaining objective, focused, and consistent with a positive attitude is key for learning math, or any other subject.


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