If you are taking a math course that uses a textbook, your teacher probably believes he/she can work virtually every exercise in the book – given the time. The teacher probably can. For most students, the major difference between the student and the teacher is confidence. It is recognized that this may be only a small step toward convincing a less confident student that he/she can do well in math. An Olympian visualizes winning and so puts forth the work to achieve that visualization. This same type of self-confidence is helpful in mathematics. Beware! Over confidence is no substitute for practice (the Olympian visualizes and puts forth the work).

     One of the main problems in learning math is that it is not taught in the same way that mathematicians learned it or developed it. A mathematician will attempt to prove something and fail – so he/she starts over. These attractive but dead end proofs are usually not taught. Clumsy arguments are polished for the classroom and text. Rarely mentioned are the hours or weeks lost because of a careless mistake at the beginning of a difficult problem. Of course, we need the polished texts and lectures – not to intimidate us but to help us. A concept may take centuries to develop but only a few hours to learn. We have a great advantage in learning the concept fast from a polished presentation. We should not be surprised if what took centuries to develop does not always come fast. It took centuries for mathematicians to accept “0” as a number!

     Many students are also reluctant to ask questions. Some are just shy, but the biggest fear is of being thought to be dumb (or too smart). It is showing what you don’t know. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it is a good question. As a last resort, try an anonymous phone call for help from a teacher. In Arkansas, one walks through and counts the squirrels that are visible to determine how many squirrels are in an area. That number is then multiplied by seven. Similarly, for someone with a question in math, there are about seven people in the bushes with the same question. You are not alone.

     Perhaps by now you recognize that the characteristics that help you develop those things you do well will also help you in learning math. Think of something you can already do well. You have the confidence that you can do it well. You have practiced, making false starts and trying again, and you have sought answers to questions.

     What is motivation? Think of yourself and integrity, attention, responsibility, discipline, satisfaction, achievement, opportunity, success, freedom, or “hanginthereness!”

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