Five Ways to Ace Summer School Math

Summer. School. Math. Three little words that have scared more high school students than any slasher film.  But in spite of best efforts, so many summer school students  – about half, according to published reports – fail to pass math the second time around.  How can you help your high school student pass his or her summer math course – and pave the way for greater academic achievement during the regular school year?

Based on my more than 30 years of experience as a high school mathematics teacher covering everything from pre-algebra to advanced calculus, I have five steps that, if followed faithfully, will help even the most “I-so-don’t-get-math” math student to ace summer school algebra, geometry or even pre-calc.  It’s not rocket science.

1. Sit in the front row.  It sounds simple, but research has proven that

  • students in the front of the room are more attentive.
  • front row students tend to take more notes – and more accurate, more detailed notes,  – leading to better understanding, better materials for review, and ultimately better grades.
  • teachers are human – they respond best and spend more of their time helping students who interact with them, and when you sit up front, you make more visual contact.  (Try smiling.)

2. Organize yourself (or help your child to organize).

  • Even before you arrive at your first class, set up a quiet place to work or study, either at home or a library, or any place quiet (although some students study best with music).
  • Have everything in one place – either a binder or a notebook with homework, tests, answers, problems, classwork, anything else.

3. Prepare yourself.

  • Don’t come to class with what I call “compound ignorance” – you don’t know what you don’t know.  Know what you don’t know before your first class. 
  • Don’t throw the old stuff away.  You may feel like they defeated you, but those old text books,  notes, tests, homeworks, teacher comments, can really help you now.  Get a good sense of what you found easy, and what you struggled with.  Know where you need to put in the hours, and to proactively seek to understand what eluded you during the regular year. 
  • Come to your first class with a written list of the problem areas, and show them to the teacher.  (Your teacher will find it helpful!)

4. Read your math textbook.   Yeah, read it!  You read your English and social studies chapters before you do the questions, don’t you?  I find that many math students, even those who pay attention, ask good questions, and take notes, will often go directly to the assigned problems on page 43, without bothering to read pages 37-42.  This is a mistake. Do not expect to absorb everything at one go during class.  The text is designed to go through the process step by step, and is a crucial underpinning to what you learned in class.

5. Attend every day.  Summer school is fast; the same curriculum you worked on for months during the regular school term will be covered in mere weeks.  No way will you be able to make up the work if you don’t attend class every day.  And don’t skip assignments!

Of course, all the usual advice applies: Ask questions when you don’t understand.  Do your homework. Get help.

Math builds upon itself.  If you had difficulty with today’s lesson, tomorrow’s will be worse!  Falling behind – even a little bit – is deadly now.  So visit the study center.  Many high schools and most colleges provide assistance, even in the summer.

Use online help.  There are many online sites, but here are two that I like:

  •  - Get additional worksheets and answers.
  • -  Get answers – and detailed solutions –  to the odd-numbered problems in some 200 math textbooks. (Your child probably already knows about it).  This should not function as a substitute for working the problems out yourself, so don’t cheat!
  • There are also many sites where you can get interactive help.

Honestly expect to spend even more hours outside the classroom than in.  The rule-of-thumb is two-to-three hours on your own for every class hour.  That’s a minimum.

And finally, consider hiring a math tutor.  (Well, you knew I was going to suggest that!)  When choosing one, look for:

  • teachers who are experienced at your course (a recent college graduate may understand Calculus II, but often does not know how to teach Calculus II so that your high school student understands).
  • certified teachers with undergraduate and advanced degrees in mathematics, not just education.  (You would be surprised at how many high school math teachers don’t understand, and are even afraid of teaching calculus).  Ask!

Get references.  You’d rather not be a teacher’s first private tutoring student.


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