Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Use of a Calculator is NOT Permitted

The PSAT this fall is aligned with the Redesigned SAT so it now included a 25 minute 17 question section that you have to complete without the aid of any technology.  If that makes your heart race don’t worry, I had the same reaction.  I’m in this with you and I just took the non-calculator section myself and I have to say it was pretty challenging.

Below are my thoughts but read no further until you take the test and check your answers.  And be sure to print the test out so you can write right on the problems instead of copying. The College Board only releases so many practice items and you don’t want to waste this opportunity to prepare.

1. I was nervous!  Not having my calculator there in case I got stuck made me panic.  On the first question I had to remind myself to calm down.  Trying to do long division by hand can cause your brain to freeze and then you’ll get basic problems wrong.  So remember to breathe and be sure to practice lots of non-calculator problems so your nerves won’t get the best of you.

2. Basic calculations slowed me down.  Some of the numbers were large and they didn’t completely shy away from fractions and decimals.  My main reaction was annoyance.  I have to divide 1950 by 30 without a calculator….really?  But once I pushed through it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I do wish I had marked the problems where I was a little unsure of my calculations with “check math” or something like that.  I had time left over at the end and then I could have double checked my computations. I’d definitely recommend brushing up on multiplication, division, and operations with fractions before the test if you are calculator dependent.

3. It was difficult…but not that difficult.  There were some tough problems!  I got #12 wrong because I blanked at first about how to solve it.  There really weren’t any freebies, you had to have a solid understanding of algebra 1 to even begin the problem.  At the same time all you really needed was algebra 1 and some basic geometry.  On some of the problems I freaked out at first and thought I had to use some advanced algebra 2 method to solve it and then I realized there was a much simpler way.

It was tough…but it was a good test.  I thought the questions were really fair and the great news is once we get through the transition it will be a much better test than the old one.  All the time you spend reviewing will help you out tremendously in your high school math classes.

National Merit in the Year of Transition

Hello Rising Juniors!  I’ve talked to many of you (and your parents) about the challenges of this upcoming year.  Many of you are aiming for National Merit and the College Board has announced that the PSAT this fall is aligned with the Redesigned SAT.  So what can you do?  Is it still possible to hit national merit when there are so many questions surrounding the new test?

You can start by sitting down and taking this practice test.  Watch out for the no calculator section! I’ll be taking it along with you some time in the next few weeks.  And I’ll also continue to post on this topic as information is released on the College Board website.

An Economist Saves India from famine

When I was at the University of Pittsburgh I discovered that researchers were using mathematics to predict the paths of refugees in Sudan.  They were able to analyze the data they had about people, food supplies, war, etc. and then start shipping food and medical supplies before they were needed.  It fascinated me, to be able to use mathematics to help save lives.

Today I came across this article which tells a similar tale of how an economist was able to predict and then prevent a famine in India.

Starting Over…What Happens When They Just Didn’t Get It?

It can happen in any family and any home school program.  You arrive at the end of the school year and math that year was a complete bust.  The book may be “completed” but the final exam,a grade at your local co-op, or your kid’s perplexed expression reveal the anxiety-inducing truth. They didn’t get it.  What now?

This happened to me several times while teaching in the public schools.  For a month I threw my heart and soul into a unit, convinced that everyone was understanding the material.  And then I gave the unit test it the results were abysmal.  According to the school calendar it was time to move on, but I had clear data showing that several students had not even begun to master the previous chapter.

At first here is how I responded…and I share this so you can learn from my mistakes.  I put all new learning on hold and announced that we were relearning the previous chapter and not moving on until everyone could pass a quiz on the material.  I pulled out my PowerPoints and we went back over each lesson.  The class grew frustrated and annoyed and eventually I went back on my word and moved on because I just didn’t think I could teach a lesson on simplifying polynomials one more time.

There are two key mistakes in this approach.  First, I retaught the material in the same way.  Whatever method I had used to introduce the concepts the first time hadn’t worked, but I just recycled those methods anyway.  Second, I didn’t take the time to pinpoint the exact concepts certain students had missed.  So when we went back and reviewed everything their first reactions were boredom and frustration.  They felt demoralized and any sense of intrinsic motivation was out the window.

My suggestion for the home school mom is that you do go back and re-teach the material but look for a way to do it differently the second time around.  This could be as simple as bringing a tutor or Khan Academy into the picture.  It might mean a new textbook, a video course, or a live class.  The second suggestion is that you take some time to analyze your child’s work.  Possibly give them a unit test or a random selection of problems as a kind of diagnostic.  Tell them to only answer what they know and to skip any problem they don’t understand.  The goal is not for them to get all the problems right, the goal is for you to eliminate the few topics that they do understand.  Even if you only notice that they have a good grasp on chapter 1-3 that means you can start reviewing with chapter 4.  This will save a lot of time and will spare your child the frustration of redoing math that they already understand.

One final word of encouragement: it goes better and faster the second time around.  Redoing a year of math (or just one unit) is so discouraging.  I know, I’ve been there! But students relearn the material faster the second time around because they did absorb some of it before even if they didn’t realize it.  It will start too look familiar eventually. And in the end, the effort will be worth it when you see their results and realize they have truly mastered it the second time around 🙂