3 Reasons Math Students Struggle

This is my first post of the year, so it should be pretty insightful, right? Not really. Just the same old advice.

If things aren’t going your way, try to be reflective. Professor Cornwall says we must continually explicate the obvious for adolescents, so here I go again. The three reason students struggle in math are…

1. Not paying attention.

The school day is long. Students are in chairs for 7 1/2 hours. Excluding lunch, they are “on” 7 of those hours. The day is long, that I can tell you. But is 7 hours any longer than students will have to be “on” once you start adulting?

It has been said that the Pennsylvania curriculum is a mile wide, and mathematics is certainly no exception. So at least 40-ish of those minutes of math class are very important! In fact, the stakes for tested subjects like math, science, and language arts are intense. But know that each school year begins with an administrative thrubbing of teachers with test scores, so class time is as intense (if not more) for your teachers.

Pay attention in your major subjects. Are you talking when the teacher is teaching? (Which BTW is disrespectful.) Are you “secretly” texting? (You’re not as sly as you think.) Are you engaged? (Plug in man!)

Be honest with yourself… Adolescents are quick to blame others for their woes when it is they who are doing themselves in. But it all starts with classroom engagement.

2. Not doing assignments.

Researcher and author Malcolm Gladwell details the need for deliberate practice to achieve mastery in his best-selling book Outliers. His research reveals the number one thing that differentiates masters in a discipline from those who languish is the total number of hours of deliberate practice. If someone is doing better in Algebra than you, you better believe they have practiced more than you.

Truly, doing assignments is the “secret sauce” to achievement. And you can’t be a “one-and-done-willy.” The answers are in the back of the book. Check them. If you got it wrong, try to learn why. Don’t just change the answer. That isn’t learning, and it’s a recipe for failure. Learning will not occur without cognitive engagement. Learning is a verb; it’s something you do. It doesn’t happen to you by being present in a classroom.

3. Not preparing for tests.

In the 21st century, most teachers allow students to have access to their Artifact Portfolio, your notebook. Unfortunately, to the vast majority of struggling students, this equates to “no need to study.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. When an advanced student who is allowed to use notes can’t finish a test in 40-ish minutes that the teacher made a key for in four minutes, you better believe that the students doesn’t study his or her notes on a regular basis. You cannot teach yourself the content during the test; you’ll run out of time.

Having said that, doing every problem every day on every assignment eliminates much of the need to even have the security blanket of your notes, but that’s another post.


Plug in during lessons.

Practice hard the right way.

Prepare for game day before the game.


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