Improve Your Math Method (SAT Series Week 3)
The Illinois April 5th state-mandated SAT is now four weeks away. With all Illinois public school students sitting for that SAT, we want to offer a series of bi-weekly insights along the way to help you prepare. This week’s focus: does your child have the right math method?
We all appreciate the value of proper method. Whether following step-by-step instructions in assembling our children’s toys safely, or expecting our physicians to adhere to best practices in our care, or going through a formal job application process, we recognize that best-practice methods are required for the best outcomes. Yet, how often do we look at our student’s math homework worksheet and consider the quality of that work? It’s in these step-by-step solutions that the foundations of proper problem-solving methods are built and trained.
But are we watching closely enough?
The Redesigned SAT will make us take a closer look. 20 of its 58 questions must be solved without a calculator, unlike the ACT which allows the use of a calculator for all questions. While a useful tool, the calculator can breed dependency, leaving students uncertain of how to perform key procedures by hand. And 13 of those 58 questions are free response, meaning no multiple choice answers are offered, while ACT is all multiple choice. On April 5th, students will find themselves confronted with questions with no multiple choice to test and no calculator to support them. It will be up to them and their mathematical methods, and those methods must be sound.
So, how are students’ methods these days?
Common Core’s Standards for Mathematical Practice have elevated the importance of method for schools by focusing on attention to precision, modeling with mathematics, and persevering in solving problems, all core principles that support careful step-by-step problem solving. However, students are seldom evaluated on the quality of the work they produce but instead are more often assessed only by the correctness of the answer they offer. In a recent study of schools a university partner of ours conducted, it was found that only 3% of students were writing out their work in their test booklets. These students answered the questions largely by relying only on mental math, which greatly increases the possibility of error.
As parents and educators, we want our students to be disciplined problem solvers, evidence-based thinkers who can follow a logical process. The Redesigned SAT will hold them to that same standard.
So, it’s time to help our students improve their methods. Take a look at that math homework and make sure that pencil is being used generously. Encourage your students to “think with their pencils,” proving all conclusions with neat, step-by-step work. Committing to a disciplined method is the first step towards improving performance dramatically.