I know you. I have seen you in my geometry classroom many times over the last 29 years. You have always, and I mean always, been a very good math student. You made good grades in Algebra with very little effort, and you have always liked math. But now you are taking high school geometry, and you are really frustrated. You’ve got good study habits; you pay attention in class, ask questions, and do your homework. But for some reason, this strange course just doesn’t make sense to you and you find yourself even requiring some additional help with geometry homework, which has never happened before. Heck, in past math courses you were the one that could give others help!

To make matters worse, you are seeing classmates who had trouble with Algebra suddenly doing very well in geometry, understanding it, and actually enjoying math for the first time in their lives. Not that you’re not happy for those fellow learners, but you can’t understand why this course is so different from the other math courses you have taken, and why are you not able to grasp it?

High school geometry is a strange creature. In my 29 years of teaching high school geometry, I have seen the above scenario played out over and over again. Just what is it that makes this course so different? And what are some strategies that will help frustrated students master this course that sometimes seems so strange?

First of all, if you are experiencing frustration with your high school geometry course, it is very important for you to realize that this is quite common, especially early in the course. Please know that most students do get past the confusion and frustration if they don’t give up. Practice the techniques I’m going to give you, continue to work hard, and even though it takes longer for some than others, that light bulb should eventually light up for you.

It might help if you understand why geometry is so different from other math courses. A traditional high school geometry course is about logic. It is abstract. It requires a different way of thinking. It is not what I call “cookbook mathematics” where one is given a recipe and merely has to follow that recipe in solving every problem. Geometry is not about a lot of drill and practice. It is about critical thinking, learning concepts and principles and knowing when and how to apply them.

It is true that previous Algebra courses required critical thinking skills as well, but not to the extent that geometry requires them. However, as you work at honing these critical thinking skills in high school geometry, there are some simple, straightforward skills that also must be mastered if you are to succeed.

Learn all the terms and definitions as they are presented. This is absolutely essential. The same goes for postulates and theorems. And don’t just memorize them; as a matter of fact, you don’t have to memorize them word for word. But make sure you have a very clear understanding of what each term means. I often told my students “You can’t expect to solve a problem about a scalene triangle if you don’t know what a scalene triangle is.” Develop your geometry vocabulary.

Don’t rush through your geometry homework. Your goal shouldn’t be to ‘just get it done’ so that you are finished with it but to really understand it. Before you tackle the assigned problems, review your notes from class and look at the corresponding material in your textbook. As you work through the homework problems, check your answers with those provided in the back of the book. If you have something wrong, go back and rethink it. If you still can’t figure it out, put a star or check mark by that problem to remind you to ask the teacher about it the next time the class meets.

Finally, when you have finished your homework assignment, make yourself think just a little more! Resist the urge to immediately slam your book closed and put your work away. Spend just a few minutes looking back over the problems and thinking about what you had to do on each one. Developing this habit of reflecting on your work can reap huge benefits in understanding and remembering important concepts. The more you understand and remember from each assignment, the less you’ll have to study and review when it comes exam time.

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Topic revision: r1 - 2018-05-14 - AuroraGomez

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