August 2, 2017
How to Tackle Any Math Problem
We’ve all been stumped a few times in math and especially by those word problems. You know that pretty much every problem you’ll see has a solution, but you just feel like it’s impossible to you. Don’t worry; it’s not because you’re bad at math. No one is “bad” at math. It’s our approach that’s bad. If you follow these three steps, you’ll always be organized in tackling any math problem:
Destination, Plan, Follow.
Start with your destination.
What’s the name of your best friend? Suppose it’s Henry. Let’s flashback to when you and Henry first met. You two hit it off and Henry invites you and a few other friends over for dinner that evening. Do you just get in your car and start driving? Not at least without figuring out where he lives first. Apply that to math: Don’t attempt to solve the problem until you know what’s being asked of you. If it’s a procedural problem like “solve for x”, well then you have your destination. If it’s a word problem, you’ll need to read into it a little more to make sure you know what aspect of the situation you need to figure out.
Don’t drive to your best friend’s house if you don’t know where he/she lives.
Don’t start a math problem until you know what you’re solving for.
Okay, so now you know where your best friend lives. However, that doesn’t do much for you unless you know how to get there so you use Google Maps, or something similar, to PLAN your route. Getting in your car and driving without a sense of direction isn’t the smartest thing to do for obvious reasons. Apply that to math: don’t crunch any numbers until you form HOW to solve the problem. Too often I’ve seen students try to solve a problem without first thinking of HOW they can solve it. Always think of how you can use what you know along with the given information to build to an answer. When you form your solution process first, then you can crunch numbers with confidence and without the self-doubt.
Once you know where your best friend lives, figure out your route before your drive.
Once you know what you’re solving for, make a solution plan before you start crunching numbers.
Make your plan before crunching any numbers.
You know where your best friend lives. You know how to get there. All you need to do is follow your GPS and you’re there in no time! Have you thought about how the stress you’re saving yourself from by simply planning? It wouldn’t be very fun trying to wing it unless you’re a cartographer. Treat math the same way: Once you know what you’re solving for, plan (without computing anything) and then follow your plan to remain confident while you solve. I like to compare math and common life activities because they apply the same logical way of thinking. If you practice being organized, it really doesn’t seem so bad. Give this a shot:
Find out where you’re going, plan to get there, then drive.
Identify what you’re solving for, plan the solution, then solve.
If we all applied this mode of thinking to the classroom and not just in our social lives, we’d see that math isn’t all bad. Being organized in this way saves you so much time in the long run. Notice that you rarely try to assemble furniture without using the instructions because you have common sense. It’s not so easy to apply this common sense to math when it looks scary, but trust me: Math is just the same and you can elevate your game tremendously by identifying your Destination, Planning to get there, and then Following your plan. Stress less and do more!
What’s the hardest part of this process for you to remember?