Summer College Math Students

Some College Math Students Don’t Add Up

Many college students – heck many people in general – are math phobic.  The way many university bachelor’s seeking students deal with this angst is interesting.  If you are teaching a math course at a two-year college this summer, it is almost certain that you will run into one or two of these students.  I’ll explain why.

College students seeking bachelor’s degrees are normally required to take from 3 to 6 credit hours of mathematics.  Some of these students did not do well in mathematics in high school.  For many of them it has been several years since they even took a math course.  The thought of taking a “difficult” college math course at their university is petrifying.  So, what do they do?  They sign up for a summer course at their local community college or technical college.

Their thought process seems to be that it will be much easier to take a math course at a “junior college” than at a “real” university.  Furthermore, why would anyone who doesn’t like mathematics take a 16-week course during a fall or spring term when they can get by with an 8-week course over the summer?

I receive more complaints from math students than from those taking any other courses in my division, and I receive the highest percentage of those complaints from summer students.  This summer, if you are teaching a math course at a two-year college be prepared.  Some of your students think they are taking the easy way out.

Complaints I Here from Summer Math Students

Actually, I hear most of these complaints in any given term, all except the last one.  It’s one of my all-time favorites!

  • Her test was tougher than the homework.  I understood how to work all the problems, but I got a D on the test.
  • He tested us on things he didn’t cover in class.
  • She goes too fast.
  • He can’t explain anything.  I don’t understand anything he says.
  • She never answers questions.
  • He doesn’t do enough examples in class.
  • If she could teach I wouldn’t need tutoring.

… and, my all-time favorite student complaint, which was a written comment on a student’s teacher evaluation form:

  • Over the summer, he should understand that students have other priorities.

My Advice for Teaching Summer Math Students


Here is my top 10 list of things you can do to help your math students succeed.

  1. Let them know you understand that some of them fear of math.
  2. Give your pledge to help them.
  3. Explain that your college’s standards are as high as at any university.  The course they are taking is just as rigorous and demanding as at a university.
  4. Make them understand the kind of effort it will take to succeed.  The old rule of thumb is 2 to 3 hours studying outside of class for each hour in class.  A three credit hour course meets approximately 6 hours per week over an 8-week summer term.  That means 12 to 18 hours of study time each week!
  5. Point out how thick their textbook is.  Explain that you can’t cover everything in class, but you will cover the parts you think they may need help.  It is their job to ask questions if they don’t understand something.
  6. Explain the difference between doing homework and understanding how to solve math problems.  Students can do homework by copying the steps in sample problems.  They won’t understand how to solve those problems until they can do that without looking at the examples in their textbook.
  7. Collect and grade homework.  It’s cruel and unusual punishment in the eyes of students, but think of yourself as the doctor making your students take their medicine.
  8. Help them understand what they understand and what they need to work on.  Give them quizzes in class that you don’t grade. (Want to reduce/eliminate tardiness?  Give the quiz first thing, and give them all A’s just for taking it.)
  9. Begin tests with easier problems.  It will help your students with test anxiety relax and gain confidence.
  10. Encourage them to use your college’s tutoring services if they are having problems.

Good luck! 🙂

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted May 23, 2010

About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.


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