Five Rules for Better Math

Five Rules for Better Math

This post includes some samples of what I mean. Don't try to read or understand math, just examine how it looks on the page.

As I described in my previous newsletter, I was a math survivor. Through hard work and determination, I made it through. Unbeknownst to me at the time, and perhaps the true reason for this grace upon my life, was that I was to raise a mathematically gifted child. After the Kelowna homeschool convention (CHEC) I go to Calgary to watch my son-in-law graduate with his B.Min. Then I drive to Burnaby to attend my son’s dissertation for his Ph.D. in engineering. Then we'll have dinner to celebrate. I’m one proud daddy and I like to think he got a good start. He was doing calculus while still at home in high school.

Albert Einstein's Notebook

A way to improve in any field is to imitate the masters. I often will gravitate toward movies about Science or Math. One of them was Proof (2005). There’s been a handful in my lifetime. I also read articles and flip through web pages, in particular noticing the workbooks of the greatest in the field.  Of course, these people are extremely talented and few will reach their level. But I also see things we can all do.

I have observed they:
1. are up for the challenge of discovering the truth.
2. Spend time and practice with feedback.
3. Like to make simple line-drawing sketches even if they’re no good.
4. On the page, their mathematics looks like a work of art.
5. Are not afraid to use up paper.

Raising a mathematically gifted boy included demonstrating a passion for the truth of it. Mathematics can be unforgivingly accountable. No faking or fudging; the answer is either right or wrong. When my kids were young and they were sometimes disappointed because life is hard and they didn’t expect it. I would cuddle them and love them intensely, but never take them away from the challenge if I thought it was attainable. Better to try and fail then never to try. Young men and women who fall of a horse need to bet back on. Kids need your love and mollycoddling isn’t love. When they know they’re loved, they can face up to challenges. Because any Mathematics worth doing is going to challenge us. That said, frustration does shut down learning. It can be a matter of emotional maturity to deal with feelings of frustration. This is where parents have to use their best judgment.

Calculus 101: Notice how the answer is checked. Click to see closer.

Mathematics is largely a skill. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours is, of course, basically wrong. Skills come about when talent meets practice. Practice doesn’t even make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. So how to get perfect practice? Check your answers after each question and correct yourself. You can’t learn to shoot if you can’t see whether you hit the target. Check your answers immediately.

Mathematicians have a special relationship with paper. You can write an essay on a computer screen but not a proof. You can’t think mathematically on a computer screen unless you are coding a computer. Real mathematicians don’t have worksheets. They do their math on blank or lined paper. The paper is the focal point of their thoughts, an extension, or map, of working memory. There they doodle and write down ideas and try to find more ways to think about the problem. Once they get an idea, they work it out logically.

Have you ever noticed the handwriting of a mathematician? They are able to present their mathematical ideas in their own had with stunning clarity. Their numbers and letters are well formed, the lines are straight and the symbols clear. It looks amazing.

Mathematicians waste a lot of paper. No to be fair modern printers waste orders of magnitude more, but mathematicians include plenty of white space, whatever they take the space they need to write and think clearly. A cluttered and messy page is a cluttered and messy mind. Lots of great math is accompanied by a wastepaper basket full of crumpled paper.


So here are the five rules of learning Math
1. Don't get frustrated, but be an adult and face up to the challenge.
2. Put in your time but get feedback on your answers.
3. Doodle, draw and write. It won't hurt your hand.
4. Make it look good.
5. Use lots of paper.

Dates and Resources

Leaving Money on the Table

Everyone is aware of HCOS funding for learning resources. If for any reason you don't need all of it, there's nothing wrong with leaving it for others. It's a shared table and HCOS counts on the fact that few people spend every dime in their accounts. That said, it's wise to be deliberate about it, rather than missing the deadlines. My classroom experience matches my HCOS experience: conclude spending for the current year by the end of March. That leaves room for error and emergencies. Spend only what you need and leave the rest, but don't just procrastinate past the deadline. That's not good for learners.

  1. Recommended date to conclude spending: March 30
  2. Funding opens for 2019-2020 school year: approx. April 30
  3. Deadline for purchasing outside of Canada: May 1
  4. Deadline for all resource purchasing: May 15
  5. Purchasing Department shutdown: May 15

Note also: This is the last year for internet reimbursements.


If you have children whom you expect to be enrolled in HCOS next year, then please re-enroll them now.  Just follow the re-enrollment process in Encom. There is no advantage in waiting, you are not giving away your options in the fall. I have requested a reduced workload for next fall and I've asked that my existing students get priority, but I need you to take advantage of that.

Dates and Links:  

Feb 22 to March 11: Rob Focussed on Report Cards

March 18- 29 Spring Break

April 12 Open House

April 19-22 Easter

April 23 to 30 CHEC (Convention in Kelowna)


You may be interested in my recommended resources page. I only add to these resources when I see a learner has done well using it within the BC curriculum. I hope to add a few more links this year.

 Rob Wahl recommended resources