Hint: Just don't quit!

I have been teaching high school math since the turn of the century. I have taught thousands of students and tens of thousands of lessons. I’m not trying to impress you, but merely to impress upon you, that I have seen success and I have seen failure. And I have identified three things that all successful students do.


1. Engage (Learn)

Successful students are cognitively engaged. That is, successful students pay attention. You’ve probably heard your baseball coach say, “Keep your head in the game.” Guess what! Math is not a spectator sport either. Good “mathletes” keep their head in the game. They focus and actively listen.

Although some students tend to focus on low probability high impact scenarios, successful students know they have to feed the machine. The inability to attain cognitive engagement is usually related to nutritional deficiencies. So if you’re starting your day off with Pop Tarts or lucky Charms, consider mixing in some actual food like: eggs, bananas, etc. And take a pass on juices in favor of drinking lots of water.

2. Practice (Do)

Successful students practice. That is, they do the assignments that their teachers provide. This practice is what makes the newly acquired skill permanent. Teachers don’t give assignments just to put a grade in the gradebook. In fact many math teachers do not grade homework at all. When students do their practice, this is evidenced in their test scores.

Think of math as just another acquired skill like learning to play the guitar. To keep what is learned at guitar lessons, the guitarist must practice every day.

3. Study (Repeat)

Even when there is not an artifact-producing assignment, successful students study. They re-read a section from the textbook. They study their notes from class. They do additional practice problems at classzone.com, Study Island, or Khan Academy.

Successful students understand that there is always a next level. Everyone can improve. The best athletes in the world are always seeking ways to make a better contribution. And the bottom line is do not give up.