5 Ways to Help Your AoPS Student

I teach math to homeschooled students, and I limit my practice to Art of Problem Solving curricula and preparing for math contests like MOEMS, MathCounts, and AMC.  

Today I want to talk about a certain type of student that I help more than any other:  The Online AoPS Student.

AoPS offers terrific online classes for students who love math.  They are text-based, with no video or audio, just a live moderated discussion board where teachers ask questions and ideal student responses are posted.  They offer weekly homework, reading assignments from their textbooks, and more online practice with their Alcumus problems. My own kids and I have taken these classes and enjoyed them.  

So why are parents coming to me to help their online AoPS students?  I’ll answer this question with my list of 5 Ways to Help your AoPS Student

(1)  Read the textbook before class.

This is a tall order for any student, especially those in elementary and middle school.  Many don’t learn this style of independent study until college. Now is a good time to learn this education hack with a built in incentive:  if you arrive at your AoPS class more prepared, then your answers are more likely to be models and selected to posted for the class to see. As any AoPS student will tell you, they live for the fame and glory of being posted!  

(2) ACTIVELY read the AoPS textbook.

Reading a challenging textbook in any field does not look like curling up with a cup of tea under a warm blanket.  Reading a challenging textbook means sitting up in an uncomfortable chair at a desk or large table, with a pen and notebook ready to go.  Write out the problems and the solutions, copying them line by line as if you were solving them yourself.  Understand each step before you continue. Work through all the practice exercises.  Get your money’s worth!  

(3)  Learn in small chunks every day

It’s better to learn in smaller chunks every day than to cram a whole chapter’s worth of material the day the homework is due.  Sleeping helps with educational digestion.  

(4)  Start homework problems early

Read and attempt a few problems.  When you reach a wall, don’t bang your head against it.  Walk away from your homework, sleep on it and try again the next day.  Maybe take some time to solve a few alcumus problems. Schedule time every day to just take another look at your homework.  The truly difficult problems in life are not solved in an hour but often require months or years of study. Get used to it.  

(5)  Consider ditching the online class and going old school

The AoPS textbooks have plenty of practice problems and plenty of challenge problems.  Work through the textbooks at home, every day, for a less than an hour per day. Model clear mathematical technique by writing out the problems and solutions as you read.  Make slow but steady progress on your own schedule. We took over 1 calendar year (including summers!) each on prealgebra and algebra, but it was worth the extra time to ensure complete mastery.  In contrast the AoPS classes proceed at a blistering pace.  

Online learning is tough which is why I’m called to help.  I spend much of my time reteaching students the principles already described in the text.  I also assign practice problems from the textbook that align with the online homework problems.   I model clear problem solving documentation (AKA showing your work) so they can see for themselves how helpful it is.  

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