17 Jan 2010
Why everyone can learn math but not everyone can get A
Frank Ho, Amanda Ho
Ho Math and Chess Learning Centre
Canada, BC certified math teacher
Vancouver, BC, Canada
If a student studies hard on math, then naturally this student would get an A in math, right? The answer seems to be logic but we know in reality this is not what is happening. If a student works on lots of repetitive problems then naturally this student would get an A in math, right? The answer again seems to be logic but we know it is not true. So why a hard working student sometimes just can not get A in math consistently? Obviously, there are factors more than just working hard for a student to get A? What are some of these factors? I have observed some of my students who could not consistently get A, despite their efforts and my encouragement to them to try harder, why?
Hope this article will help some students to find some underlined reasons and then rectify these problems and improve their math skills and ability.
Some reasons on why some students cannot get A are as follows:
1. Unable to apply learned knowledge on new problems or even new symbols.
For example, write the following as one exponential number.
2 x 2 x 2 x2 x 2 x 2=?
The student can do it but if the problem is slightly changed to 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 4 x 2 then this student could not do it. This student works reasonably hard and pays attention while In my class, but just could not see 4 is just 2 x 2, she gets confused when the 4 appearing in the question.
Students can do (a/b)/(c/d) when it is written in left to right format but the same problem is written in vertical format, many students start to get confused, this is really shall be blamed on many textbooks authors since elementary students are always shown the left to right fraction formats but in reality, the trigonometry identities are more often in vertical format such as cotx/sinx when they go to high schools. This is a problem that some elementary math textbook authors do not know to simply just change some of the fractions formats to vertical formats for elementary students to prepare for their high school math.
2. No longterm memory
I have taught this student questions like (xy) to the power of 2 times xy type of questions in the summer but she could not do ((2 to the power of 2) x 2 x 2 x 2)/( (3 to the power of 2 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3) , theoretically, if she could do the variablebased exponentials, then she should have known how to do a bit more complicated numberbased exponentials, yet she could not do it. She did not even remember she already did it in the summer – 5 months ago. She does not seem to be able to accumulate previous learned knowledge and use it to solve future problems.
3. No multitask ability when doing math
Many students can listen music, play their cell phones, watch TV, talk to friends on the phone, and send text messages while study. The can perform multitasking in real life yet when doing math, they can only do it in a sequential way and very mechanical. For example, to solve 3x +2 = 3 + 4x, they can not see that they can actually do it by moving 3x to the right and at the same time, move 3 to the left so the answer is –1 = x but we write it as x = 1. They insist that it shall be done by 3x 4x + 2 = 3 + 4x  4x, so they will get –x on the left side to begin with. Why these students are so lack of multitasking abilities and insist that each step has to be done in sequential way and one step at a time when doing math?
If the student is a hard working person with good learning attitude and has done fair amount of practice problems, then to help this kind of students to perform well in their tests by asking them to do even more practice is not really the solution. I feel the real solution is to get them really understand how to solve and especially how to tackle problems. At the same time, this kind of students shall also work on some word problems, which train them how to think, how to retain previous learned information and use them how to organize their thoughts so they can analyze problems and find some ways to solve problems. The emphasis to them is not to try hard to find a correct answer, but how to find a logic way of trying to solve the problem. We need to train them to be able to “see” how a problem can be solved, not how a problem can be “computed” to get an answer.
Frank Ho, Amanda Ho
