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## Math and the Nontraditional Student – Power Tips to Get Past the Math Barrier

Non-trads (non-traditional students) are those who do not follow the traditional route of graduating from high school and then immediately enrolling in college or university. They are often over the age of 25 and may have been in the workforce or have been stay-at-home parents before making the decision to pursue college or a certificate. Some attended college for a semester or two and then dropped out, only to later decide they wanted to come back and complete their studies. Some have been downsized and are looking to change vocation. Most of them share a common concern: to pass the requirement of general studies in mathematics.

It is a valid concern. Mathematics is developmental in that your math knowledge and skills are added in successive courses, with each grade a critical building block in the foundation needed for success in General Studies Mathematics (often College Algebra or Finite Math). If you’ve had a few bad years or been away from math for a while, you really won’t know until you try if it’s going to be like getting back on a bike or getting run over by a truck.

But there are some things you can do before and during your brave math adventure as a nontraditional student. Speaking of my years of tutoring, helping, and teaching non-trads, here are some tips and suggestions:

**Before starting the course**

1. CONSULT MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL MATHEMATICS BOOKS TO PREPARE. The problems with any math course lie in the prior courses. In other words, if you anticipate having trouble in college algebra, the problem won’t be so much understanding new material as not being able to put together the foundational knowledge and skills of Secondary II algebra. If you had the stuff of Algebra II handy, you would be able to leverage it for use in the slightly higher application level of College Algebra. Middle and early high school texts will help you get back to the basics you need and do it in a way that’s simple, clear, and less rushed than reviewing a chapter that’s often found at the beginning of a text. university algebra. In fact, it’s the compressed first chapter that often contributes to a loss of hope at a critical time in a new beginning for a non-traditional student. Let’s go beyond that, shall we?

2. GET YOUR OWN SUPPORT GROUP. Recruit a buddy or two to go back to school with you. Swear from the start that you will encourage and support each other through the challenges ahead. Choose carefully. Avoid negative personalities that will drag you down instead of working alongside you. Choose someone you can relate to, someone who will listen and “speak the truth with love”. You want someone who will be able to give and take with you so that you can help each other adjust your way of thinking and your approach to challenges both intellectually and emotionally. Hopefully, this person will be as focused as you and persevere until graduation.

3. LEARN ABOUT TEACHERS. Before committing to a particular section and teacher, do what smart students do: find out about the teachers. Do it with a discerning ear. If you detect that the person giving you the truth about Professor H is a whiner, then take that information with a grain of salt. Ask several other people about Professor H and draw up a general profile of this teacher’s style, classroom practices, and personality. They may be demanding but very clear and fair. It would be good. As a non-trad you really don’t want the easiest path because you know now that learning is hard and you would REALLY prefer to learn now so that the work you depend on is easier later. The non-traditional support group or center on campus may be able to help. Center employees may not be comfortable naming names and shooing you away from this professor who is a total jerk. But I bet the students who work there and congregate would blow your mind!

4. IF NECESSARY, GO DOWN ONE LEVEL. Most colleges and universities will give you a free diagnostic test to tell you if you’re ready to start the general studies math course or if you should go back to a lower-level math development course. If you have any doubts, take the test and find out. Better to spend a semester firming up the foundations and then navigate through College Algebra or Finite Math than to fail and lose the semester and a lot of confidence and forward momentum.

**During the class**

5. ATTITUDE IS ALMOST EVERYTHING. I used to have students asking, ‘How important is this course? The course was College Algebra, so my first answer was, ‘How much do you want to graduate from? “If you need to pass a course to graduate, then that course is pretty important. slow you down; others can stop you in your tracks. A bad attitude toward math will keep you from learning and doing the things you need to do to be successful. If you detect a bad attitude toward math, you need to deal with it. How do you do that It’s just an emotion – change it.

I once worked with a non-trad who fought and railed against math on a daily basis while I tried to teach her beginner algebra lessons. After she came to believe that I had her best interests at heart, I said, “You’re right. You should quit. Her mouth dropped open and she looked at me in shock. “You’re right,” I continued. “You should stop wasting your time here and get a job in fast food.” She looked at me in horror for another minute, then burst out laughing, saying, “That’s what’s at stake here, isn’t it?” The next day, she walked into the tutoring center with a big smile on her face and said, “I made friends with math.” From then on, she was excelling in math, and I had the pleasure of teaching her college algebra (she got an A) and helping her with her teacher-training math classes. She had really made friends with math and it reciprocated by being friendlier to her.

6. ABSORB HOW OTHERS THINK. Similar to number two, join or create a study group that meets daily during the week. Your goal, in addition to contributing whatever you can to help your friends, is to be affected (or infected) by their way of thinking about math. Many make the mistake of using group study time to accumulate facts about problem solving and not focusing on HABITS OF MIND. Listen carefully to what others think. You want your way of thinking to change to be more like that of another student who is doing well in some area of math. Learn to ask questions like, “What made you think this would work?” and “What did you see in the problem that pushed you in this direction?” Look for the categories in which their successful ways of thinking fall. For example, does this student always do well with a particular type of problem because that type lends itself well to drawing a diagram? The belief that there is always a pattern and that if you look long and deep enough you will find it is another habit of the mind, a way of thinking mathematically. Absorbing how other people think is a strategy; the next tip should be your approach to all of your learning.

7. PURSUING MASTERY, NOT JUST COMPLETING MISSIONS. Here’s the secret: the skills needed to teach something are the same skills needed to master it. It’s an alignment that’s important if you, as a non-trad, are going to get that college education for all it’s worth. While traditional students “do well” or even “get good grades”, you will master the material. You may end up with a degree or training. If you pursue a master’s degree, you’ll learn more deeply and you’ll have the skills and knowledge to apply what you’ve learned – you’ll get an education, not just a degree. So while others are solving assigned problems, you will be working on additional problems and analyzing the concepts behind the problems, the categories the problems fall into, the tools you use to solve the problems in each of the categories , etc. You’ll “teach” the math section to see if you understand it well enough to say it out loud, even if you have to go to the bathroom and lock the door to do it in private. When you teach the material aloud, new and different connections are made in your mind and you will gain knowledge that you never would have had simply from reading and working problems. Find a way to teach it on a whiteboard or large piece of paper so that new associations become apparent to you as you feel the movement of arrows and lines that connect ideas together. To master it, you will teach it and gain the knowledge of a teacher.

That’s more than enough for now. However, look for a Part II because there are many more things you can do to increase the likelihood of mastering a general studies math course. I’m not going to say “Good luck”, but rather “Good job! »

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