What can your child do to excel in math? Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Most top students scored with flying colours in the GEP and PSLE math by developing effective learning strategies that, after years of practice, have turned into their second nature.
The key to math success is about putting small consistent efforts into the right areas. In this article, you will find five student-led learning strategies and critical thinking skills of highly successful students that your child should build in and out of class to get on the steady path to math mastery.
1) They have a growth mindset towards math
Students with a growth mindset perform better on tests and are more engaged in math class. They are more likely to believe that math intelligence can be developed over time, and that effort leads to mastery. They view mistakes as an opportunity to learn instead of setbacks. In the face of math obstacles, they are more resilient and willing to try different methods to solve the problem.
Watch out if you heard your child saying, “I’m not good at math”. Or if you’ve ever secretly agreed to that, perhaps, your child is “just not a math person”. These insidious thoughts dissuade your child from trying, asking questions, or persisting at a task because they think they will never succeed. A fixed mindset easily begets a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In fact, Math is the science of patterns, relationships, and problem solving. Number sense, logical reasoning, and creativity are of the essence in math mastery. Hence, if these skills are properly learnt, everybody can be good at math.
Successful students succeed because they believe they can turn challenges into opportunities. Your child can learn to do so, too. The next time your child complains that a math problem is too difficult, be gentle with them. Remind them to take a break. Then, when they’re ready, review the problem with them and show them how to overcome the barrier instead of giving up.
2) They ask questions while learning math
The brightest students in the class are often the ones asking the questions, not the ones giving the answers. Harvard professors Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K John agree, as “asking a lot of questions unlocks learning”. It creates a virtuous cycle that encourages the exchange of ideas, drives creativity, and promotes performance improvement.
When students ask questions about math, their brains grow stronger. Active learning occurs when they engage with new concepts, actively listen, and try to solve problems. It also helps them retain their attention and hone higher-order thinking skills like problem solving and critical thinking. As a result, they find it easier to transfer learning across disciplines and into their daily lives.
Reassure your child that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Even asking for help is a manifestation of a growth mindset. Every question is a window for the teacher to get insights into their thinking process and where they need more clarification; they’re motivated and likely to learn more, too. With better understanding comes less frustration and more joy in learning.
It takes great courage to ask a question in class, especially if your child is shy. So the next time you check in with your child in your usual on-the-car-ride-home or over-the-dinner after-school conversations, be generous with your praises and acknowledge their taking ownership of their learning.
3) They manage their time efficiently
What separates straight-A students from the rest of their peers in math is not their exceptional IQs but their superb time management skills.
By making an effort to plan and set priorities, scholar students are less likely to procrastinate and struggle with pressing deadlines. With increased spare time and focused attention on the important tasks at hand, they are more likely to succeed in schoolwork, tests, and other aspects of life.
Time management is a soft skill learnt through experience and perfected through practice. Help your child create a schedule and study plan for math. You can ask your child to share with you what they are learning in math at a specific time each day. When you model setting aside time for a task and keep to a first-things-first rule, your child learns to practise self-discipline in managing their time.
4) They take regular breaks to reflect on their learning
Our brains are like muscles. If we work them too long without rest breaks, they become exhausted and less efficient. Getting sufficient rest recharges our brains, prevents stress, and helps to maintain sustainable performance.
Successful students take breaks. These breaks are beneficial to building critical thinking skills because they give students a chance to sharpen their focus and working memory for active learning in class. Those who give themselves a rest tend to remember what they studied, and it’s better than those that did not take breaks.
Give your child time to rest instead of jam-packing their timetable with a full slate of activities and revision. Take the break time as an opportunity to guide them to reflect on their learning by connecting the day’s lesson to previously learnt concepts or their daily life applications. Highly successful students learn how to work and play hard. At Spark Math, we’ll be right there with them to show them how.
5) They set SMART math goals
SMART? Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Driven. SMART goal setting is a widely-used framework that can help your child draw an actionable roadmap to achieve math success, with metrics to measure their progress and keep them on track. Let’s break down each component of SMART goals:
- Specific: Clarity breeds mastery. Guide your child to define the who, what, when, where, and why in their goals to drive their actions. Instead of making vague statements like “I want to do better in math”, set a more precise goal like “I want to be able to solve two-digit fraction problems with 85 percent accuracy by the end of the unit.”
- Measurable: Actionable steps with tangible outcomes make it easier for your child (and you) to keep track of their progress and keep themselves accountable. Brainstorm with your child to rephrase general promises like “I will work harder in math” to concrete, quantifiable actions like “I will complete all my Spark Math assignments, including the Little Teacher Presentation to reinforce my math concepts every week.”
- Achievable: Goals need to be ambitious but attainable. Be realistic about what your child can achieve given the time and resources at hand, keeping in mind that every child learns and develops at their own pace. An achievable goal should be slightly beyond your child’s reach but not overly lofty to bring needless aggravation and disappointment.
- Relevant: Make sure your child takes the relevant actions to accomplish the goals that matter to them. For example, your child wishes to brush up on their math concepts and skills in preparation for the Math Olympiad. You may want to help them get proper training from experienced Spark Math coaches, rather than random worksheets from the Internet.
- Time Driven: Goals should have a set deadline. “Win an award in math” is ineffective because there is no urgency in achieving it. Lead your child to set a short-term deadline for achieving their goal. Say, “Win an award in math by the end of the school term” is a great example of a time-bound goal that will drive your child to take action.
Sit down with your child now and start writing a SMART goal they would like to accomplish. Plan regular goal check-ins to guide your child to reflect on and refine the goals that will set them up for true success in math.
Support your child in building highly successful habits for math success with our Spark Math online classes. Your child can look forward to animated explanations and highly interactive lessons that help to master math heuristics. Sign up for a FREE trial class to experience Spark Math today!