How Many Times Have They Changed How Math Is Done Neatness Counts in Math

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Neatness Counts in Math

Okay, how many times have you heard the phrase “neatness counts”? But as you know, simple, common sense advice like this is often difficult for many of us to follow and apply. However, when it comes to being successful the neatness of math students is huge. As a former middle school and high school teacher, I can’t tell you how many math assignments I saw that looked like they were written in an alien language, aka “chicken scratch.” Of course, many people are convinced that mathematics is completely and utterly alien, but that is another matter. The point is that mathematics is a language that must be written correctly so that it can be read and understood.

Students should view solving a math problem as proving a legal case in court. A jury and judge want to see a complete, step-by-step logical argument to prove a point or result—math teachers are no different. Math teachers around the world bored their students with the phrase “show your work”, this should be interpreted as “prove your case”. So let me outline 3 big math habits that get students in trouble.

o Font too small. To that I say increase the font size mate! I know many people are concerned about global warming and want to preserve trees and paper, but please feel free to write bigger. Remember that your teacher must be able to see what you are trying to communicate. Another ironic point here is that many math students get their homework or math test back and can’t even read their own work, how many of us have experienced this?

or Careless writing. That’s what I call slowing down and trying harder. For many years I was a chronic “sort of a sloppy math student.” It wasn’t until I became a math teacher that my writing improved. I had a reason to focus because I was modeling mathematical solutions to students, my examples had to be clear, understandable and show key steps. So I buckled down and really committed to being cleaner; it was hard, but eventually I developed good math writing habits and it helped me a lot.

o Not writing enough. That’s what I call “tell the whole story”! If I had a nickel for every time a student just wrote an answer on their math test without any supporting work, I’d be a rich man! Remember, math teachers are like a judge or jury: they want evidence! As math students you have to tell a story from beginning to end… walking the reader (teacher) from the problem to the solution. A good way to improve your math writing is to try to model how much work your teacher shows when demonstrating math work on a chalkboard or whiteboard. Again, with practice and experience you will get better results in math. By the way, a little tip for those of you who are interested in getting more points on your maths test: the more work you show, the better your chances of getting partial credit on your maths grade; so don’t change your math grade without showing the work!

Years of experience as a math teacher have taught me that many students struggle in math simply because they are sloppy. The good news is that “lack” is a habit that can be changed and improved. Students of mathematics can help themselves by remembering that mathematics is a language that must be written clearly so that it can be read; trust me, not only will your math skills improve your teacher will be more than happy to thank you with better math grades.

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