Category Archives: Studying Skills

3.14: A Pi day celebration from a math idiot

Is math just for math people? Are you just not wired for math? Well, you and your math-struggling student can celebrate Pi day, too!

I was awful at math in  high school. So bad, in fact, that I  didn’t qualify to take math in college.

Felt great at the time, but looking back on it, what a shame. The only math I could do as a kid was “breaking a twenty” as a cashier at my job at the drug store. I could make change like a champ! Now, cashiers don’t even have to know any math at all, since the machine does it all for them.

So do we really need math?

Sadly, some universities think we don’t:

Wayne State drops math as general ed requirement

What a shame — and I know why they’re doing it, although they’ve got an excuse for it:

This decision was made largely because the current (math) requirement is at a level already required by most high school mathematics curriculum,” the school wrote.

Yes, and that’s precisely why so many colleges have to teach remedial math to freshmen — and that’s the very problem that Wayne State is avoiding.

Now math at Wayne State will only be required of kids who don’t need help with it.  By dropping math for the rest, they’re giving up on those kids just as my college gave up on me.

Now This is Me, Missing Math

Well now into my middle age, having built a couple businesses, written a couple books, raised a couple kids, planted a couple trees, you know, a full life  — and now working with students in the A+ Club across the country, I contest that we all need math.

Higher math skills would have allowed me to engage in more subjects at college that I find fascinating such as Physics and Chemistry. Higher math skills would today allow me to make better analyses of my finances and businesses. Higher math skills would allow me to understand the statistics behind many of the studies I read on education and behavioral economics. And lacking those skills bars me from conducting studies of my own.

I became a math illiterate for the very same reason I see so many middle, high school and college students struggle with it today:

  1. They found math difficult and thereby highly aversive;
  2. Consequently, they avoided engaging in the independent practice required for advancement in math;
  3. Consequently to that, they never got the feedback and direct help they needed in order to engage in that so very important independent practice (see Help for students struggling with math: “guided” v “independent” practice);
  4. Repeat until the student is no longer required or allowed to take math or just gives up.

A Pi Day Plea: Parents, help your child like math!

I can only urge parents not to let math slip by your child. It kills opportunity and, worse, it becomes an excuse for not being able to do those other things that require math.

Even if you don’t like math yourself, you can engage your child in math by turning it from judgment into positive reinforcement.  See my post for how to help your child with math even if you don’t know math by engaging in Socratic questioning to guide students in explaining it themselves: How to know if your student is really learning: “if you can’t teach it you don’t know it”.

Your child can succeed in math, and it doesn’t take expensive tutors to get there. What’s required, though, is ENGAGEMENT, because,

Math is a process not a skill

What my parents and I didn’t know when I was in high school was that math is not a skill set. My brother was and is a math whiz, it just came to him easy, which made it enjoyable.

Me, not so easy.

Having scored higher on the SAT math than on the verbal sections (and I’m a writer), I should have known that, yes, I can do math.

The reason I didn’t LEARN math was that I didn’t DO math. Hated the homework, thereby hated the class, thereby didn’t get teacher feedback, thereby didn’t learn, and thereby did poorly on tests.

Happy Pi Day to you and your non-math student

Let’s not use Pi Day as a punishment but as reminder that we all can do math.

When I work with a student who struggles with math, I, who knows nothing about their algebraic formulas love hearing the kids explain to me something that they DO know about it. They always know something — and, yes, now I find myself learning a thing or two myself!

Please also see this marvelous advice from my math teacher friend, Speaking math constantly with Joy Ferrante.  Joy’s advice is for parents of smaller children, but it holds for all of us at any age — to learn math we must do some of it, and we can.

– Michael

Understanding and Overcoming Procrastination: a presentation by Michael Bromley

From the Sycamore School Lecture Series: Parenting 21st Century Kids:

On March 1, 2017  at the Arlington, VA Central Library, Michael Bromley presented:

Understanding and Overcoming Procrastination

Michael Bromley discusses strategies to help ourselves and our children overcome the urge to delay. Michael is a high school teacher, historian, published author and founder and president of School4Schools.com LLC & the A+ Club

Please click on the below image to open the full slideshow.  This slideshow is not narrated: for audio explanation of these ideas, please go to the Student Success Podcast: Procrastination Primer part 1.

A presentation by Michael Bromley from School4Schools.com LLC & the A+ Club copyright 2017

NoteSlideshow Copyright 2017 by School4Schools.com LLC.  This slideshow is for personal use only ** not for distribution ** Please contact School4Schools.com for permissions and more information.

More events from the Spring 2017 Sycamore School “Parenting 21st Century Kids” Lecture Series:

Wednesday March 15th 7:30-9 p.m.
Navigating Technology: How to help children address cyber bullying & manage electronics

Brooke Carroll, Ph.D. will lead an interactive discussion regarding parenting our tech-connected children. Brooke is an Educational Consultant & former Head of School at Seneca Academy; she has over 30 years’ experience in education. Location: Arlington Central Library

Wednesday March 22nd 7:30-9 p.m.
Ways to support your anxious child

Christina Tripodi Mitchell, Psy.D. is the Founder and Clinical Director of The Child & Family Practice of Washington, DC & is a Clinical Professor of Psychology at The George Washington University. Location: Arlington Central Library

Wednesday March 29th 7-8:30 p.m.
Promoting Executive Functioning & Study Skills at Home

Ginny Conroy is an expert in applied behavior analysis and recently opened her own practice Social Grace; she works with children and families to provide individual & group social skills and educational advocacy.
Location: Westover Library

Click here to Register for the Sycamore School Lecture Series: Parenting 21st Century Kids

Here to learn more about the Sycamore School.

How to know if your student is really learning: “If you can’t teach it you don’t know it”

We hear it all the time. Students say, “I get it when my teacher shows it to me, but I can’t do it on the test.” Then parents tell us that their child “doesn’t test well.”

When children say, “I get it when my teacher shows me,” what they’re really saying is that they didn’t learn it for themselves.

Turning New Knowledge into Prior Knowledge

The process of turning “New Knowledge” (NK) into “Prior Knowledge” (PK) is what I call “internalization.” When our brain receives new information, it looks to store it somewhere meaningful. If there is no related PK to connect it to, then the NK remains just that, unrelated, unconnected information that has no lasting memory.

However, when the NK finds a comfortable home, it is connected to meaningful PK and can now begin the process of internalization, that is going from NK to PK.

Kids get this. Continue reading

Five tips on how to “study better” for an exam: extending memorization for brain memory and recall

memoryWhen students say they don’t “test well” or that they “don’t know how to study,” parents and teachers often respond with suggestions — and criticism — to, well, just “study harder.” Great. But what does “study harder” actually mean?

We can see how “studying harder” might actually work if we divide learning into the two distinct parts of:

  • Factual Knowledge
  • Application of Knowledge

The first is straight memory, while the second requires its application, by which we mean extension through comparison, analysis, evaluation, and so on. Thereby “studying harder” requires development of first, factual knowledge, and, second, using it. Continue reading

Laptop, Tablet, or Desktop? Google Docs or Office 365? Which technology is best for high school and college?

What’s best for school, a laptop, tablet, or PC?

Heading back to school always feels like a fresh start. And like a new set of clothes, getting a new device just makes you feel good.

But for high school and college students, freshmen especially, the choice of technology can really impact academic performance. The wrong choice can make school difficult or, worse, become an excuse not to do well.

Into the start of the 2016-17 school year, I thought it’s time for an update from previous posts here on the topic. The technologies haven’t changed much, but there are more options — and most importantly, more affordable ones.


Here for previous posts on the best technology for school:
College bound: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac?
The Best Computers for College: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac pt 2


What has changed significantly, though, is the “cloud.” Continue reading

Procrastination, values, and connecting long term goals to short term choices

student goal setting, values and procrastinationParents and teachers think that if only students would connect their short term decisions to long term goals, such as college and jobs, they would quit procrastinating and do their homework.

That’s why we’re always telling them about how important their future is.

Experience tells us that it’s not a reasonable connection. Kids won’t suddenly start doing their homework because they decided one day to be an astronaut or a sports agent. They do their homework because they think the homework is important unto itself.  Or not.

Every Child Wants Success

Students of all levels have high-standards and long term goals for themselves. But just wanting to go to a good college doesn’t get the homework done.

Continue reading

How can I improve my essay grades? Students, writing is drafting

student writing an essayWith academic writing or other research projects, student improvement has a single source: drafting. Students will always score a better grade if they don’t hand in a “first draft” to the teacher.

Think of handing in an unrevised paper as “going in blind.” That means that no one else, including the author, has looked it over. A fully revised paper or project is one that has been looked over — and over again, hopefully also by a second pair of eyes – revised, sat upon, and revised again.

The great writer and critic, Evelyn Waugh, advised* : Continue reading

Ancient advice from Epictetus for students and parents: want what you can, not just what you want (setting realistic expectations)

All students are aspirational: they want to do well in school and for their parents. But when they fall off from expectations, the excuses and resistance begin.

Managing a teen student is complicated enough! Now you have to deal with enforcing rules, upping the oversight, and staying on top of a resistant child. Communication breaks off, and things get, well, unhappy.

At the A+ Club, we help students do better in school by engaging them in reflection, problem solving and goal setting — and following up week to week, along with assignments and grades oversight and direct tutoring when needed.

Our system helps students identify what is possible and feel empowered to get there. When kids don’t know what to do or can’t see past the next step, it’s usually because their expectations aren’t aligned with their realities.

Do not “require a fig in winter”

– Epictetus

When we adults say, “I want to lose weight” it’s as vague and meaningless — and counter-productive — as when a student starts a new quarter after low grades with, “I’m going to get straight A’s.”

Continue reading

Brenda discovers that she actually can learn the quadratic formula! (with a little help from the A+ Club)

Cartoon1_Panel2_bBrenda’s mom is upset about her grades and that she’s not doing her homework. Brenda thinks her mom is being too pushy. Like high school teens & parents everywhere, they’re both a little right — and also a little wrong.

Brenda’s mom is right to be concerned. And Brenda is naturally feeling stressed over doing something she is genuinely having trouble accomplishing. And that’s where the emotions get in the way.

This scenario plays out every day with high school teens and their parents.  Sometimes students just don’t know how to do their school work. Worse, sometimes they don’t know how to go about studying. That’s where we can help.

Quadratic Formulas & Other Troubles

Brenda is stuck on the Quadratic formula. She gets it when her teacher shows it in class, but when she has to do it on her own, she gets stuck. And then everything else becomes a problem, too. Continue reading

A Successful Assessment pt 3: how to take a test (or, reading instructions & not running out of time)

Test Prep help from the A+ ClubWhen a parent of a middle or high school teen worries that “my student doesn’t test” well, what’s missing is a combination of goal setting, preparation and execution.

As discussed in the previous posts on “Successful Assessments,” testing success consists of:

  • Identifying teacher/ test expectations (“no surprises”)
  • Preparing effectively (learning v. cramming)
  • Executing on test day (test taking strategies)

Test prep above all else

“Easy” tests are those students have or are effectively prepared for: if the student knows what to expect and prepares for it, the results will be strong.

That said, there are still a few things a student can do to better results on the test day.

A couple do-nots on test day include: Continue reading