How to Help Students Get Better in Math (Video)

Avatar photo Dr. Alex Edgcomb

More and more, math seems like an impossible mountain for many students to climb, even in STEM disciplines. 

Helping these students – who may have experienced a disadvantaged education or had a long break since studying math or started college as adults – inspired zyBooks cofounder Dr. Frank Vahid to create the Quantitative Reasoning zyBook. The book aims to shore up bedrock math concepts through a novel approach that’s at once fun, accessible, and directly relevant to their lives. 

I’m proud to have worked with Dr. Vahid to develop our Quantitative Reasoning zyBook. I want to share some of the concepts that informed this book – approaches you can apply in your classrooms, too. Read on, and be sure to check out the short video below. 

Start at the beginning of math – the very beginning 

We start with no assumptions about math. What does that mean? We literally begin with the most basic concept, counting. While our book is geared towards adults, you can’t do math without understanding how to count. From there we walk students through the traditional subjects like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, algebra, and more. 

Lead with real-world examples 

We teach math, but math is not the focus. How? By starting each topic with tons of real-world examples students can relate to. Say I’m going on a road trip, how much is it going to cost? How far can I travel on a full tank? We introduce a number of variables and offer strategies to solve these problems. Sometimes that even means teaching students how to guess at the answer, as ballparking numbers is an essential part of everyday life and builds math intuition.

Keep it fun

We illustrate examples with video clips, humor, fun facts, and even some fascinating history. Our aim is to reduce anxiety and fear, and help students develop a positive feeling about math. How many times have you heard, “I can’t do math”? This is how we chip away at that misconception. 

Weave in more advanced math

You can’t read a newspaper article or Twitter post without encountering statistics. Probability is another inescapable part of adult life. Ditto for logic, sets and graph theory. By drawing on personal finance, health, home maintenance, even cooking, we give students “ah-ha” moments to connect these advanced topics directly to their own lives, and learn them. 

Align with modern educational theories

The pedagogical approach we use in our book aligns with modern math education theories. [Read this paper to dig deeper.] But we didn’t deliberately design the book based on theoretical matrices. Our driving force is a genuine desire to make math accessible and interesting for all. By going beyond traditional math textbooks to infuse real-life scenarios into abstract mathematical concepts, we’re helping students make math an integral part of their everyday lives and set them up for success.  

In this video, Dr. Edgcomb demonstrates the foundational concepts of the Quantitative Reasoning zyBook: 

Avatar photo
Author Bio

Dr. Alex Edgcomb

Alex leads the Pedagogical Engineering team at zyBooks, developing interactive learning tools, simulators, and lab environments, as well as authoring tools that optimize productivity of authors. Alex enjoys working closely with authors and learning experts to build activities that are straightforward, promote many small steps, enable ample practice for students, and provide immediate, high-quality feedback. Alex joined zyBooks in 2014 after earning his CS PhD from UC Riverside. Alex has published over 40 research papers, mostly on web-based STEM education, including two best paper winners and two best paper nominees at the ASEE Annual Conference.