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Monday, March 30, 2009

Recipe for Math Success

The following is a guest post written by one of the district's math teachers.

Some people claim that “shortcuts” and “tricks” are detrimental to true learning. I disagree…giving our students tools to employ simply makes them better able to problem-solve in the future. With TAKS right around the corner, I want to share with you some strategies I have employed in the past to aid my students in increasing their overall grades as well as their TAKS test scores. I am hoping that you will be able to reinforce these methods at home and encourage your student to use some or all of these test-taking strategies to increase their achievement on all types of tests.

I have been using the following acronym (I know, I know…not another one) for several years and it has proved to be useful to many students.

We call it the “RECIPE.”

  • R - Read each problem carefully twice
    (We all miss things the first time around.)

  • E - Estimate your answer
    (Often answer choices can be eliminated with estimation.)

  • C - Check/Convert units
    (Test writers just love to mix up the units.)

  • I - Is it on the formula chart?
    (If they are going to give you a cheat sheet, USE IT!)

  • P - Picture, Proportion, or Pythagorean Theorem?
    (The 3 P’s can solve about 1/3 of the problems on TAKS tests.)

  • E - Eliminate wrong answers
    (Crossing out obviously incorrect answers takes your focus away from them and increases the probability of getting them right.)

I always add one final question…“Does my answer answer the question?” You would be surprised at how many questions are answered incorrectly, not because the student didn’t know how to do the problem, but because they did not provide the answer to the question that was asked.

Other techniques
In addition to following the “RECIPE” to success, we can encourage our students to utilize other strategies as well, some they already use on the reading sections of tests:
  • Highlighting only the important information given in a problem and making notes in the margin about the type of problem or what you are looking for in the problem are both similar to techniques taught in Language Arts classes to help with reading comprehension.
  • Focusing on one sentence of the word problem at a time helps students by breaking the problem into more manageable pieces to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
  • Writing out the formulas, defining the necessary variables, and showing all of their work are a few more ways a student can be sure to be successful on tests.
  • Bubbling the answer document last. So many kids get so bogged down in bubbling that they are not focused on the work necessary to be successful.

If you want to help your student further, there are many excellent resources available on the internet. One would be the Released TAKS test Web page. There you can access previous TAKS tests for each grade level and each subject. At the same site, you can access Test Study Aids on the left. Under the Study Aids link you will find TAKS study guides, released tests and answer keys. On the Legacy High School website, Stephanie Barnes, the TAKS coordinator, has created a series of links to pertinent TAKS information, including those websites referenced above.

Here are some last minutes things you can do as parents to help your student do their very best on TAKS:
  • make sure they get a good night’s sleep the night before the test,
  • make sure they get a good breakfast on the morning of the test, and
  • send them to school with lots of positive encouragement and, of course, #2 pencils.
Good luck and high scores!!!

Kristi Kelton
Algebra I Teacher, Mansfield Legacy High School