Category Archives: struggling math students

Setting Up for Success: 3 Keys to A Great Start in Math this Year

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Everyone starts a new school year with high hopes and fresh resolve to make it a year of growth and accomplishment. Over the years I’ve seen many math students excel and others struggle to just get by. I’m a firm believer that habits and attitudes play a much bigger role in our accomplishments in the classroom than innate ability. Here are some concrete ways you can increase your odds of a fruitful and joyous year in math.

  1. Get organized. Have your student set aside a specific shelf for math. It should house their textbook, notebook (not assorted pieces of loose leaf paper), graph paper, calculator, and everything else on those supplies lists. Some of you are thinking really, that’s her first tip? I know, it seems so obvious. Yet, very few high school students take the time to do this. Pick a notebook that can last you for the whole course or at least the semester. I’ve seen students skip over graphing problems because they didn’t want to go searching for graph paper. Print off a nice pile of this graph paper and have it hole punched and ready to go.


  1. Line up help. I’ve done several posts on math tutors here and here. But the important point is if you know math might be a problem devise a plan ahead of time. Don’t wait until your student has struggled through 20 lessons and they finally admit they’re completely lost. A better approach is to pick an objective measurement. For example, any quiz grade below 70% and there’s going to be a one-hour review session with dad or an older sibling. Agreeing to this ahead of time lowers the stress involved with admitting they need help.


  1. Be honest about weaknesses and shortcomings. If math didn’t go well last year it might be best to start with some review. I wrote a full-length post about this here. Review helps all of us. In 10th and 11th grade I set aside the first six weeks of school to review for the SATs. My main goal was to get a great score and earn a scholarship. But a secondary benefit was that I reviewed lots of basic concepts before jumping into something new. In the end, I made up those 6 weeks because I was able to learn the new material more quickly.

Try these out and let me know how it goes. And if you want to ask about specific concerns or questions find me on Facebook! I love helping homeschool families figure out high school math.

Common Math Pitfalls: Geometry

Geometry is the odd ball of high school math…you either love it or hate it. Many “non-math” students find it is a refreshing break from the equations and formulas of algebra. But others do struggle. I spent a year teaching nothing but geometry back to back in Philadelphia. That experience and multiple tutoring jobs helped me pinpoint these main trouble areas.

Measuring Angles with a Protractor: It seems so simple. But most students don’t understand the concept of what an angle is and then don’t understand what they are measuring. In my high school classes we dedicated an entire day to learning how to use a protractor.

Understanding the parts of a triangle: This is another big one. When it comes to the Pythagorean Theorem the most common mistake is that students mix up the legs and the hypotenuse. If they don’t correctly identify them they misuse the formula.

right triangle

This becomes an even bigger issue in trigonometry when they need to identify adjacent and opposite sides.

Correctly Using the Order of Operations in Formulas: There are lots of formulas in geometry and all you really need to do is substitute the values and evaluate. But lots of students do not correctly follow the order of operations when they evaluate.


Common Math Pitfalls: Negative Numbers

The minute negative numbers show up in a math problem things get confusing fast. I started every school year with a quick review of negative numbers because they would trip up even my 11th graders. A student would solve a complex quadratic equation and then get the whole thing wrong because they didn’t correctly calculate .

So here are some tips on how to handle negatives:

    1. When your child is first learning about negative numbers or reviewing them don’t be afraid to slow down. Take two days on that section or add in some reinforcement from Khan Academy.
    2. Make sure they understand the concept and aren’t just memorizing a saying. Lots of students will tell me “a negative and a negative makes a positive.” That is not true. That would mean

Instead a negative number multiplied by a negative number gives you a positive product. To correctly solve the problem above it can be helpful to use a number line or different colored chips.

3. Practice, practice, practice. In my last post I talked about the importance of memorizing math facts. That includes facts about negative numbers. So incorporate those into your flash cards or mad math minutes.

These tips and a little extra effort and time will save your student from so much frustration down the road.


Common Math Pitfalls: Not Knowing Your Math Facts

In the elementary grades a lot of time is spent on students learning their math facts. But some kids never quite master the multiplication table or still have to draw a picture (or use their fingers) to calculate .

This issue snowballs in high school. These facts need to be memorized and automatic so all their brain power is dedicated to the problem solving or algebra skill. A ten-step problem because laborious if you are still pulling out a calculator for each little step.

But it is easy to remediate. In my high school classes I used this book. We started with subtraction believe it or not and progressed through multiplication, division, and eventually fractions. You only give yourself one minute to do all the facts. It is only possible to get them all right in time if you have them completely memorized.

Try it for a month and you will see a big difference.

Common Math Pitfalls

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One of the great benefits of teaching in the public schools for 7 years is the sheer volume of students I saw. Having over 1,000 students pass through my classroom allowed me to see common trends and pitfalls.

Although students are very different it as normally the same things that tripped them up in mathematics. And as a homeschool mom it is harder to recognize that your student is struggling with a concept that lots and lots of students struggle with. Instead you just see that they don’t get it.

So in the next couple of weeks I’ll be identifying some of the most common math pitfalls and giving some suggestions on how to address them.

Common Math Pitfalls:

Not knowing your math facts

Negative numbers


Photo Credit: Paul Fisher with text added.