Making Precalc More Enjoyable – a Math Hater’s Guide.

I have been a history buff for my entire life. My late grandfather was a big history enthusiast, and I guess I inherited it. I’m pretty good at English, and though I’m not a fan of science I somehow get A’s year after year. But I have always had trouble with math. If you’re like me, and can’t find any interest in math, then these tips should help you. They can be applied to any math, but I’m in precalc so that’s the inspiration to this post.

Tell Stories.

This helps me more than anything. When you come across a difficult problem that you know is going to take long and is really boring, then make a story out of it. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, but make it interesting. It makes you think more, and usually it will help you understand the problem better, leading to you getting it right! Stories are good because they apply the math to something tangible. When you can think of something in terms of real life, it make it more relateable, more interesting, and much easier.

Pictures.

My math notes are absolutely filled with pictures, drawings, and doodles. This isn’t because I don’t pay attention in class. As with the stories, it makes things easier to understand. It lays everything in the problem out for you to look at and understand what’s going on. When in doubt, draw a picture. It will most likely help. Seeing things helps the brain process the whole picture of what is going on. Most times, if you come across a problem that seems impossible, drawing a picture will help you. Usually.

Buddies.

There’s a group of girls in my precalculus class that frequently goes for our teacher’s extra help  sessions. We do lots of problems on the board, tell our math teacher stories that are completely irrelevant to the subject, and laugh a lot. The best part of this group is that everyone of us is bad at something different. Together, we can understand the entire problem, and have a lot of fun doing it. Get together with a group outside of class, or go for the extra help your teacher offers. It will always pay off to see other people’s points of view.

Although this still won’t take away the work load involved in taking a hard math class such as precalc, it will make the work seem less difficult, and get you better grades. I’ve been a math hater my whole life, but using these tips and some self-discipline, I’ve worked my way to peace with mathematics.

Make your study space perfect – cut study time in half!

There have been countless articles on study skills that tell you the place you study is one of the biggest factors of your productivity during the time you study. Usually the advice looks something like this:
1. Study in the same place every day
2. Don’t study in bed
3. Be away from noise and distractions
4. Have all important supplies around your study place.
I have read maybe 30, probably more, articles that say these four things. As I was a straight A student up until I entered the tenth grade, I didn’t listen to these. I would sit in our den on the comfortable couch with a bottle of water and my computer in front of me. I checked my Facebook, went on AIM, checked my email and talked to my mom while she made dinner and helped my brother do his homework in the kitchen. I got my work done in about four hours, because I was never completely focused on the work I was doing. Last year I got by doing the same thing, but my grades dropped. I was getting B’s for the first time, and I failed a final, which was the biggest shock of my life. I hadn’t changed my study habits, but I had changed schools. Sophomore year went by without damaging my transcript too badly, but I saw that there was definitely a problem. Over the summer my mom put my sister who is now in college’s old desk in my room, right in front of the window. In the corner next to the desk there is a shelf, and on the other side of the desk is my bed. This, to me, is the ideal study space. Here’s why:

1. The Desk. Get a desk that is big enough for you to spread your work out comfortably. If your school is like mine and has laptops, you need a desk you can put your laptop and textbook on without having to flip the book opened and closed repeatedly. Personally I spread my work out a lot because seeing everything helps me to manage my time properly, so I need a huge desk. It’s also useful to get a large desk calendar (you can get them for about $5 at staples). When you sit down to study you will be able to see all upcoming tests and events, and plan your time accordingly. The legs of my desk also act as shelves, which is useful for storing things I need a lot such as my stapler, my glasses, pens, a calculator, and extra loose leaf. Don’t overcrowd shelves, because things need to be easily found. Make sure everything has a place so you can find things without wasting time. 🙂

2. Seating. Comfort is important when studying. You want to be comfortable enough to focus, but not comfortable in the sense that you could doze off. Pick a chair that suits your needs. If you like cushioned chairs, get one. If you like a plain wood chair, that’s fine too. I personally like chairs with wheels for mobility. They have cute cheap ones (mine is bright pink) at staples (yes, I swear by staples products, and I live there during the school year). It is important to choose a chair you like and that is comfortable, because you will be spending a lot of time there.

3. Shelving and Boxes. Next to your desk, make sure there is some form of storage or shelving. It will keep you from clutter and wasting time while you are doing your work. Set the shelves up in however way you like, it’s really up to you. Just remember to keep them organized and have a place for everything. I’m going to describe how I organize mine, just to give you an example. My shelf has a top and three shelves. The top shelf has a clock, so it can easily be seen while I’m working, and pictures (because my room is filled with them). The bottom shelf has reference books and things such as chargers that I don’t need at my hands that quickly. The middle shelf has two bins: one has my computer stuff that I need from time to time (like flash drives and an extra battery) and one has my study essentials: notecards, post-its, extra writing implements, rulers, etc. The top shelf is bare, except for my photoshop CD rom. I use this for books when I’m home from school, so that my desk and floor don’t get cluttered.

4. Bed next to the desk. My bed is directly next to my desk for two reasons: the first is so that when I’m studying for 7 hour periods (which I don’t recommend I’m a bit of a workaholic) and pulling all nighters, I can take a 20 minute power nap. The other reason is that I see my bed while I’m studying. Late nights of working on my term paper are easier when I have the motivation of a good night’s sleep in front of my face. My comfortable bed sitting there makes me work that much harder, so I can get to the reward that is so close, yet so far away.

Using this set up has raised my productiveness, and cut my study time almost in half! Less distractions and a well put together study area really do help in getting things done much quicker.

Midterm Exams – Do’s and Don’ts

It’s the end of the semester for most people in high school right now and that means two dreadful words: midterm exams. I know in my house the lights will be on late at night with two sleep deprived kids (one of them being me) trying to recall all the information covered in every class since September. Since my first exams in 7th grade, I’ve learned a few simple Do’s and Don’ts of conquering these pesky tests.

 

Don’t:

  • Cram the night before. There are one to two exams a day, normally. This makes a lot of people think they can come home from the exam and start studying for the next day. There are a few problems with this plan: first of all, exams are long. When you get home, you’re going to be tired. You’re not going to immediately want to go study some more. Leaving everything to the day before is going to make you overwhelmed. If you start studying maybe four days before, you’ll have the bulk of studying done, and on the say before, all you have to do is quickly review your notes, and you’ll feel confident that you’re prepared for your exam.

  • Skip Breakfast. You’ve heard it said a million times: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s true. If you roll out of bed as late as possible and go take your exam, you’re not going to do the best you can. I mean a real breakfast, too. Not a cup of coffee or a candy bar, things like that will give you a quick sugar high, and then you’ll crash. Studies everywhere show that your mind is sharpest when you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast in the morning.
  • Go on Facebook/Myspace/other internet distractions. Personally, I’ve deactivated my Facebook account for Midterms week. This way I won’t check my email and get tempted to click on the Facebook notifications in my inbox. They’re not there. I also temporarily cancelled my RSS feeds on my favorite blogs so I don’t get a pop up about a new post while I’m studying. I suggest avoiding the computer altogether when studying, because there are so many distractions involved. However, if you go to a school like mine where you use a laptop in school to take notes, it’s sometimes unavoidable to use the computer. I suggest either printing your notes (some people find it easier that way so they can highlight/write on their notes). Another option is to turn off the internet on your laptop (mine has a switch on the side) so you can’t be distracted. This will cut the time it takes for you to study in half, and you will learn the information better than if you are constantly checking your Myspace or any other internet distractions you frequently use.

Do:

  • Sleep. Pulling an all-nighter will not get you a better grade. It will get you over tired, over stressed, and less likely to recall information in the morning. Go to bed at a reasonable hour the night before the test. (Note: 2 a.m. is NOT a reasonable hour). In the morning you will be well rested, in a better mood than a sleep-deprived you would be, and your mind will be sharp and ready to take on the exam.
  • Make Lists. To-do lists are extremely useful, but a lot of people don’t know how useful they can be for studying. Currently in my planner, I have my daily to-do list, with things that must be done TODAY, and my midterm to-do list with things I have to do in each subject to get ready for my exams. It reduces stress because you see everything you have to do written out. Usually it looks a lot less intimidating. And being able to cross things off a to-do list gives you a feeling of accomplishment, which makes you feel that much less stressed as you go forward.
  • Study in groups. You’re pulling an A in English but struggling in Precalc. Your math whiz friend is having trouble with her vocabulary. So collaborate and you’ll both do well. It doesn’t have to be any kind of formal study group; you can hang out one day and trade notes or explain something to each other. A friend of mine is really good in Spanish, and I make very thorough history outlines. So we trade off our notes and we both get better grades because of it. Working with someone else will always give you a different perspective, and help you to succeed on tests. Especially with a lot to cover, you can split things up and make less work for everyone! Just make sure to stay on task.

 

 

So hopefully a few of these tips will help you with exams. Just remember, it’s just a test, don’t overstress yourself. Now go get to studying!

 

Feel free to comment, I’d love feedback!!

6 Things that Chorus Taught Me About Life

For inspiration for my first blog post, I looked to my favorite blogs (Life Hack and Zen Habits). The authors of both blogs always use something they know about to give advice or explain things. So my post is going to be lessons I learned from being in my school chorus.

Now, I love to sing. And I’m pretty good at it (not to be cocky). It’s one of the few things I do that keeps me from overloading myself with stress. But my insane but amazing choral director has managed to teach me some valuable lessons while I released my stress into singing.

1. Put your body into it.

I can’t even count how many times my choral director has yelled this at the top of his lungs at us. I’m a soprano, and when the sopranos aren’t getting the high notes, he forces us to stand so we have to use our entire bodies to sing. You may be thinking, “Ok this blog sucks, this girl is giving me pointless singing tips.” But I’ve found that no matter what I do, if I put my whole body into it, the best product that I can possibly produce comes out as a result. For example, I’m working on a term paper right now. Unless I devote my entire being to that paper, nothing gets done on it. I can sit for three hours working on it while talking to my friends online and checking my email at the same time, but unless I devote my whole self to something, the quality will be greatly decreased.

2. Listen to each other.

This is said particularly when my chorus is performing a capella pieces. To know your own part is great, but unless everyone listens to each other, the pitch and rhythms won’t flow together. The piece will sound messy and ill-rehearsed. Think about the last time you had a disagreement with your best friend, mom, or significant other. Chances are it was because one or both of you hadn’t been really listening, and there for you weren’t “in tune” (excuse my awful music puns) with how each other was feeling. If everyone listened 50% more, there would be so many less misunderstandings and arguments in the world.

3. Breathe.

This could go hand and hand with listening I suppose. If you run out of breath in the middle of a phrase, you’re not in sync with your other musicians. It’s also hard to sing if you don’t support yourself with enough breath. My chorus teacher has yelled it at us enough times for it to stick with me: during tests, when i’m having an argument with my 12 year old brother, and when i don’t understand the precalculus homework and it’s 11 p.m. and i want to start crying. Taking a breath can do wonders in any situation that has the potential to stress you out.

4. Get off that phone!

Ok, this doesn’t directly have to do with chorus, but it’s something that I’ve taken from chorus and applied to my life. Of course, when we are in chorus, people text and play with their phones. It’s a group of teenage girls who just spent an entire day learning and working hard – of course they’re going to be sneaking their phones. But I realized this school year that I’ve grown much too attached to my cellphone. When I think I’ve misplaced it, I get stressed and search everywhere and yell at my brother because he hides it on me sometimes. So I took my choral director’s advice and got off the phone. Every day for about two hours or so, I turn off my phone and put it in my room. I read a book, maybe study a few things, I talk to my mom, I help her cook dinner or clean the kitchen. Simply turning off your cellphone, computer, blackberry, whatever it is – is a great way to quiet your mind and relax for a while.

5. Attendance is important.

I’m absolutely terrible at this. My choral director is s stickler for attendance. If you were in school and you miss chorus, he calls you down on the announcements and he yells at you. Or better, if you’re in his class – which I am – he yells at you in front of the class. I’ve come up with a ton of excuses as to why I couldn’t go to chorus: I have a ton of homework and I have no time, I need to pick up my brother for my mom, I have a headache and can’t sit in a room with people singing. But this year I decided that I needed to be more diligent about attendance. I realized two things: 1. It wastes other people’s time if the whole chorus isn’t there. 2. it’s a reflection of you to the teacher. No matter what kind of commitment you have: chorus, sports, a club, a class, or anything else; you should try to be good about attendance – in the long run, if the chorus director knows you’re always there and working hard, he’ll pick you over someone who isn’t for the solo :]

6. Support.

More important than supporting your voice in my chorus is supporting each other. I’m in the vocal ensemble, which is the select chorus. We stay late, which none of us are ever happy about. We have to learn a dance this spring. An Irish jig. We have one member who Irish jigs. We’re all going to have trouble, but it’s important to support each other because we’re only as strong as the weakest member. Although there’s girls who maybe don’t get along, everyone is supportive, because we are all in the same boat: we’re tired, we have 5 tests tomorrow, and we need sleep desperately. Supporting others is a huge thing in life. You can’t be independent all of the time. There is going to be group projects, jobs where you have to work with others, and you can’t go through life only supporting your self. Everyone needs support. I think that’s the most valuable thing I’ve learned from my insane director screaming at us because we’re talking and none of us know the words to the song a week before the concert. If everyone supported everyone else, this world would be so much more beautiful of a place.

If you have some feedback or an opinion, feel free to comment this post or shoot me an email (located on the about me page).

Welcome.

So, in order to relieve my stress and do something productive with my life, I decided to start blogging. While I doubt this will get a large following, maybe some people will read it and enjoy what I post. I believe in my 17 years of life I’ve learned a thing or two about some things. Maybe I don’t know all the answers, but I’m going to try my hand at writing something people will want to read.

So I guess I’ll start with basics. My name is Kaitlin and I live in New Jersey. I go to an all girl’s Catholic school, which I think is a blessing and a curse put together. I’m 17 years old and a junior in high school. I like to read (blogs and books), watch movies, play video games, and go for really long walks by myself. That’s basically all I can think of about myself at the moment. I hope that this blog brings me the stress relief I need, and maybe helps a few people on the way.