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The Math Problem

Math was always a weak subject for me as a student. It seemed no matter how hard I tried, I could not grasp the concepts and I certainly could not relate to them. I wondered, why did I need to solve the problem that “X” was facing? How could that possibly apply to me? I didn’t panic because I assumed most kids struggled with math as I did.

As I got older and wiser, math concepts began to make sense. It was as though a light turned on in my head. In amazement, I searched for answers to the question “why is math so difficult for students?” In my quest for answers, I was enlightened by the likes of modern-day mathematicians, including University of Toronto math professor, Dr. John Mighton, founder of the acclaimed “Jump Math” program.

Math, simply put, is structured like a building. You need a solid understanding of the concepts at the first level before you can move up to higher levels (new concepts). Basically, you need a solid foundation, and you need to be fluent, like a fluent reader. The idea is simple, yet striking because in school I always felt pressured to move on before I was ready. It is imperative for students to understand math concepts extremely well before moving on, even if it means taking more time to learn those concepts.

The process can be tricky and time-consuming, especially since math has a language of its own that you need to learn. To be successful, you need time and patience. Now I understand why my Finite course fell apart for me within the first few weeks – I kept moving on before my lower level or foundation was solid. Eventually, I gave up. Sticking with it and choosing not to give up is key. I should have taken the time to ask more questions, get more help after class, and I should have exercised patience to move along with lots of practice.

As a student, you can help fill in holes in your foundation with practice and the application of the skills you learn. This does not have to be done using a workbook alone. Here are some strategies to help you build up your math foundation.

• Ask your teacher or peers for extra help each and every time you get stuck.

• Find out if there are volunteer math tutors available through your local library (you can also see if a family member or family friend would be willing to offer some tutoring for you).

• Check out TV Ontario’s online tutoring program, “Mathify”:

• Start a study group where you can meet with friends regularly who are taking the same math course as you. Go over difficult questions together. 

• Look up math videos online that deal with the concepts you are struggling with. Make sure the websites are from proper sources.

• Strengthen your cooking skills! By cooking and using recipes, you will strengthen a variety of math skills, including measurement, fractions, and ratios. Double a recipe or cut it in half to stir things up.

• Help plan your family summer vacation. It doesn’t have to be a long trip – even planning a day trip is a good use of calculating time and distance (use a map too!).

• Open a savings account and set some savings goals. This can help strengthen your skills around calculating percent, multiplication tables (many secondary school students still need to solidify these basic math skills), and of course saving money.

These are just a few examples of how you can strengthen your math foundation. Once you get started, there’s no telling what heights you’ll reach!