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Education has always been a subject of intense scrutiny; it has been too easy, it has been too hard, and we are behind other countries based on test scores.  The leaders of our state spend a lot of money on researching potential changes for our education system.  Despite many recent changes that were aimed at being for the better, math – now, more than ever – is still a subject that causes tears, fear of failure and low self-confidence.  Students as young as first grade are scared of timed tests and want to quit math.  Does anyone else see a problem with this? 

With the STAAR test and most recent updates to the TEKS, students are feeling even more stressed than ever.  Educators and politicians are looking forward to seeing this year’s STAAR scores, especially since the majority of curriculum in fourth through sixth grade, the most integral years of math foundations, is either new or has been moved down from higher grade levels.  Teachers are forced to rush through more than one year’s worth of curriculum and play catch up in order to prepare their students in hopes of having a good passing rate on STAAR. 

Why all the changes?  The TEA constantly researches and edits standards for college readiness, and the agency felt that a major change was needed in order for our students to be ready for college-level classes.  The change in TEKS goes hand-in-hand with the new SAT design, which is designed to accurately reflect college readiness of incoming college freshman.  The new SAT will affect this year’s freshman class.  The major changes in the math section are two-fold: there is now a non-calculator section AND the majority of the test focuses on Problem Solving and the Heart of Algebra, with only 10% of the exam covering advanced math topics.  In addition, test-taking strategies will change, as there will be no penalty for incorrect answers.  Students will be focusing on their knowledge of the subject, rather than their ability to know when to guess and when to leave an answer blank.  The new TEKS are building blocks that will lead to better preparation for the SAT, advanced placement courses, and college classes.

Putting it all together, it is clear that the country wants to better prepare our students for the future.  It is unfortunate for students in third grade and above, as they will be experiencing this change without any extra transition time to catch up.  In spite of all changes, it is important we remember that the key to success is having a solid math foundation, which starts in elementary school and continues to build.  At Mathnasium, our primary focus is to ensure that each student has a strong math foundation and number sense.  We want to help your students catch up, keep up, and get ahead, no matter how far behind they feel.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about the new changes in curriculum or want more information about our program.

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As the end of the school year approaches, it may be tempting to view the upcoming summer holiday as an opportunity to take a break from math for the time being — especially if your child is less than enthusiastic about the subject because it is too easy or too hard. On the contrary, with the boredom that comes with school temporarily on hold, summer may just be the perfect time for you to help your child start afresh with his or her performance in and attitude toward math! Here are some things you can do now as you formulate a plan to reinvent the relationship between your child and math.

  • Schedule a meeting with your child's math teacher. Ask the teacher about your child's performance in class, skills covered during the year, and any other helpful feedback about your child's behavior and attitude towards math. This conversation is a great starting point and will give you the insight you'll need as you decide how you can best help your child.
  • Meeting with your child's math teacher should leave you with a fairly accurate sense of what to expect in terms of final grades. While you should always encourage your child to do his or her best in school, understand that if your child is extremely behind in math, it might not be realistic to attempt to salvage final grades at this point. In cases like this, it may be best to look ahead—things you can do going forward to ensure that the following school year ends on a much higher note.
  • Did you know that during the summer, kids can lose approximately two months worth of math learning gained during the school year? Fend off the dreaded "summer slide" by seeking out kid- and math-friendly summer activities and projects that will help your child boost math skills. Mathnasium offers fun and flexible summer programs tailor-made to address your child's problem areas in math or simply give them a challenge. Give us a call or stop by—we'll be glad to speak with you about how our program can help your child, or simply give you some helpful suggestions on how you can work some math-related fun into your child's summer schedule. 

    Summertime math fun can also come in the form of math games you can play at home, or simply seeking out "teachable moments" such as using cooking to teach your child about measurements and proportion; shopping at the Town Square to work with money and basic addition and subtraction. At Mathnasium, we believe that "mathing" with your kids is just as important as reading to them. Showing your child the more enjoyable side of math during leisure time can do wonders to change negative attitudes toward the subject. Engaging in these types of activities also reinforces how having solid math skills can make life easier and benefit your child in the real world.
  • Sit down with your child and have a year-end review—an honest conversation about his or her performance in math and academics in general. Use this conversation to gain a sense of your child's attitude towards math and school and get on the same page regarding long term academic or career goals. Ask your child about ambitions and goals and help him or her understand that doing well in school is a critical step in making these dreams come true. 

    During this talk, it's so, so important to stay positive, optimistic and encouraging, especially if your child didn't do too well and final grades aren't looking pretty. Bring up the possibility of working on some math over the summer and together, research options and check out summer programs. Reinforce the fact that good, honest effort yields results. Change is possible, and there's a strong chance that the grades you're seeing this year won't necessarily be the grades you'll see next year. Getting your child to buy in may seem like an uphill climb at the beginning, but the benefits will make it all worthwhile. 

Good luck and happy "mathing!”

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Prepare to Be a SuperSTAAR!

April and May used to be two of my favorite months when I was in school.  Classes were coming to an end and my friends and I were already making plans for a fun, summer break.

Unfortunately, April and May are now two of the scariest months to many students due to STAAR testing and the potential for a summer-school bootcamp.  STAAR is the state’s student testing program.  The STAAR is more rigorous than previous state tests. The majority of new STAAR assessments test material students learn in their current year of school. In contrast, TAKS high-school level tests were required by law to test content studied over several previous years.  Also, for the first time since the state began its standardized testing program, the STAAR tests have a time limit. Unless a student is eligible for an accommodation, each student has four hours to complete each assessment. 

One of the biggest complaints we hear is how scared students are of the STAAR test and how they feel like they have failed before they have even started.  An enormous amount of pressure is being placed on our students to perform well.  Larry Martinek, the creator of Mathnasium, describes the scenario well: The bell rings and everyone takes their seats. The teacher passes out the test and, with sharpened pencils, everyone prepares to turn the page and begin. The student next to you flips open the first page and seems to begin answering questions with ease. Time seems to speed up, nervousness kicks in, and you stare at the first test question but forget how to complete it, even after having studied the material over and over. Panic rises and before you know it, the hour is done, the test is over, but the innate fear of it all hasn’t subsided. Parents, this is what we call “math anxiety.” Numbers on a page not only confuse some children, but can also potentially give them full-blown anxiety. This “math anxiety” is intense and feels similar to stage fright.

Seeing our students feel defeated is not what we want, but how do we fix this?  At Mathnasium, we have been preparing students for these types of tests for nearly twelve years.  In many cases, math anxiety comes from a student’s memorization of the correct procedure and routine to solving a problem, as opposed to developing a core understanding of the problem. When this happens, children quickly forget what they’ve learned, and anxiety sets in. One way to sharpen these skills and avoid math anxiety is through math instruction outside of school. Not only do we want our students to be successful in their current grade, but we also want them to be successful on all standardized tests and future grades.  To do this, we have been taking “math anxiety” out of the picture and replacing it with “math confidence.”  We want the students to be able to understand why math works the way it works and not simply memorize steps to solving certain types of problems.  We are not bound by TEKS and grueling timelines; but rather, we allow students to learn at their own pace, focusing on their weak areas while reinforcing their strengths. 

It is a misconception that extra help is only for children falling behind in school. Whether your student is making A’s or F’s throughout the school year, this is no guarantee how they will perform on the STAAR.  Consistent, additional lessons and preparation are not only beneficial for kids struggling with the material, but they also benefit those students who understand the material and want to strive for further concept and skill development. We want to see our kids keep up with the expected standards, not just try to catch up with daily lessons.  By giving them every opportunity to learn math in a way that makes sense and gain confidence, you will be setting your students up for future success – on STAAR and in life.  Join us at Mathnasium, and make the long-term commitment to take math anxiety out of the picture and help your student become a SuperSTAAR!