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Getting It: The “Critical Core”

Algebra 1, Geometry & Algebra 2:

January and February ring in both a new year and mid-year grades.  Whether your school’s grading system is quarters, trimesters or semesters the academic performance issues parents avoided during summer and fall resurface with a vengeance by March progress reports.  Most pediatricians notice an uptick in children presenting with school issues at certain times of the year.  For example, concern flares just after Q1 because of challenges that were glossed over at the end of the previous year or just after Q3 because parents are worried about end of year grades.  Stress abounds particularly in high stakes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses.  Math subjects rank highest for procrastination, phobia and flat-out fear among students and parents alike.  In her Education Week article, The Family Root of Math, assistant editor and education journalist, Sarah Sparks points out that parents’ attitudes toward math impact their progeny.  As a math teacher and education consultant, I give parents and students perspective that goes beyond the Common Core Approach to Math to what I have coined the Critical Core math subjects.

No matter which track your child is on,
they will need these Critical Core math classes.

My Critical Core math courses are Algebra 1, Geometry & Algebra 2.  Algebra 2 is the minimum math requirement for 4-year colleges and is the gatekeeper course to high school Trigonometry, Statistics, and Pre-Calculus.  Regardless of college major, confidence and aptitude in algebraic concepts are compulsory for quantitative analysis and research requirements: it’s not just for STEM majors, but a must for all.  Agility during one’s high school years with the basic 12 Parent Functions from the Critical Core subjects pictured below matters in everyday life.

diagram with small graphs of twelve mathematical functions

A function is a special relationship that makes sure each input (x) has a single output (y).  Parents silently wonder as their students often complain the same thing: “When am I ever going to use this stuff?”  Regularly, even if not directly, is my answer.  The basic twelve functions are alive and well in our work-a-day world.  Proficiency with them does pay-out big confidence dividends beyond high school.  For example, the exponential function relates to understanding simple vs compound interest: this is a big deal with housing and whether your student someday is the buyer, builder or financier around a mortgage note.  For our more environmentally conscious younger generations, it also represents exponential decay rates which are crucial in analyzing the decomposition of waste components in landfills.  Most campuses, especially the Top Green, are composting, recycling wastewater, and offering weekly farmer’s markets often researched by students with faculty and run by student clubs. College admission counselors eye the critical core performance of applicants because it also maps directly to SAT and ACT scores and helps predictive models of college degree completion.  What now?  Face the facts, if that progress report indicates weak math muscles you should contact me at Full Spectra for math guidance so your student is Getting It sooner rather than later.  Here’s to progress this Spring semester!

Getting In:
College Visits and Victoria’s 65% Rule

Traditionally, visiting college campuses gears up junior year.  During the winter and spring breaks of public and private high schools, these students and their families are double-dutch vacationing with college information sessions and campus tours.  Frankly, getting the pulse of an institution in February, March or April helps gauge a teen’s best-fit for retention and graduation.  During the height of my admission recruiter years, the quant (quantitative, data-driven person) in me came up with the “65% Rule” as a guide to help students to assess if a prospective college was a match.  It was obvious to me that juniors and seniors starting the college application process have qualitative and quantitative data on what makes them a successful student: bottom-line, upperclassmen are professional high school students and they “do high school” really well.  Simultaneously, they are clueless about being professional college students.

Simply put, Victoria’s 65% Rule states that a student will be successful at an institution if it contains at least 65% of what made them successful as high school students.Click To Tweet      Simply put, Victoria’s 65% Rule states that a student will be successful – thrive and graduate – at an institution if the learning community contains at least 65% of what made them successful as high school students.  This success-vibe shows up in many forms from geography – location, weather, urban/suburban/rural – to diversity in human relationships, affinity group housing, faculty or staff with familiar life experiences – and even the ease to finding comforting self-care services such as barber shops, hair and nail salons, ethnic foods and associated products.  The 65% Rule forces students and parents to be introspective as well as factual and to honor intuition along with a 6-semester track record of facts (grades, extra-curriculars and life situations since freshman year).  Caution college shoppers! It’s not about name-brand, but best-fit.  Despite the recent college admission scandal to hit federal court involving high profile celebrities, CEOs, coaches, and many others, finding the best-fit college is a process.  When undertaken mindfully – with professional help or DIY – it delivers the goods.  As I write, I am on tour with my high school junior son visiting colleges in Colorado, California (southern and northern), Maryland, Washington DC, and northern Virginia.  Here’s to safe travels this Spring!

Getting Through:

Find Your Faculty

The verb “to educate” comes from two closely linked Latin words educare and educere. They mean “to train or to mold” and “ to lead out”, respectively. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “to teach someone, especially using the formal system of school, college or university” and that’s what faculty are “supposed” to do.  A major part of Getting Through for students is identifying those faculty who not only know their discipline exceptionally well–and the lion’s share of them do, but who can effectively translate that knowledge to the learner. When it comes to college professors, it’s definitely not one-size fits all.  After freshman year, the onus rests more squarely on the undergraduate’s shoulders to manage course registration and to lead the student-professor matchmaking process.  For instance, someone who instructs along your preferred learning style isn’t necessarily an “easy professor”; however, their teaching methodology checks off enough of boxes to lead you out of ignorance into subject mastery.  My guidance is to get guidance from peer evaluations on platforms such as Rate My Professor and ULoop; the former requires account registration while the latter does not.  This Spring, “do” your due diligence for Summer and/or Fall semester course registration and find those best-fit faculty fast!

Getting On:

When to take pre-professional exams like…


Does your college trek track pre-med, pre-dental, pre-law, pre-vet or pre-PhD?  Many undergraduates are earning their bachelor’s degree intent on careers that require a professional license to practice.  Most of these require any bachelor’s degree, specific courses most students can check off within their “GE” or “GenEd” (general education) requirements, and passing the required professional school entrance exam.  Whether or not to take the exam is not optional like the SAT was for college entrance.  What matters most is when.
Pie Chart showing % of subject matter on the MCAT examFew undergraduates are told by their pre-professional advisors the best answer for “When should I take my MCAT, DAT, LSAT, GRE, CPA, ASA, GMAT,…?” It is not the fall semester of your senior year, for sure… and even the fall of your junior year is late. I guide students to take these crucial exams somewhere between May of their sophomore year and September of their junior year. What’s that about? It’s about what matters to the professional schools: proficiency in the course content accomplished in the first two years (usually four semesters) of college is what they want. They’ll teach them “the profession” when they enroll. Let’s take the pre-med track students. The 100- and 200-level courses required by medical schools and tested on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) are General Chemistry, General Biology, General Physics, Organic Chemistry. There is absolutely no calculus on the test; fundamental arithmetic, Algebra, and some trigonometry is all.
By the end of their sophomore year, most students with or without a pre-professional advisor’s help have taken the introductory level courses professional schools require.  Why not strike when the iron is hot? Take that school’s entrance exam then.
Why not strike when the iron is hot? Take professional school entrance exams (MCAT, DAT, LSAT, GRE, CPA, ASA, GMAT) after your Sophmore year! Click To Tweet    Here’s why: as students move deeper into their disciplines, retention of those fundamental concepts fade.  Like the beams of a house erected early on, they get hidden behind the drywall, paint, and furnishings as the structure becomes a home.  Two to three semesters later as a rising college senior, a pre-med biology student, for example, is knee-deep in upper-level courses like microbiology, molecular cell biology or ecology.  It’s a struggle to think about the Krebs Cycle (Intro Bio) or Markovnikov’s Rule (Organic Chem) as when first learned as an underclassman and that’s how it will appear on the exam.

So, please shell out the shekels at the end of sophomore year.  Register for the MCAT and for a solid test prep course, my preference is KAPLAN, because taking entrance exams sooner than later can make all the difference for getting on to medical school.  This advice, including using KAPLAN Test Prep, spans the other pre-professional tracks as well.  Good luck getting on to that professional paycheck!