Returning to school for another year almost certainly means one unavoidable truth for junior high and high school students everywhere: Math! Ready or not, that perennial behemoth, which devours so many students’ time, GPA and will to continue school, is back for more! But what if the feared monster could be tamed with ancient technology?

In recent years, math has become increasingly digitized. Between digital textbooks, online homework, calculators with WiFi and bluetooth, smartphones, Desmos, Mathway, and Khan Academy, it is easier than ever to depend on technology for even simple calculations.

But take caution, noble student! The greatest tool in any math student’s repertoire is still, undoubtedly, the pencil. Working through a problem on a piece of paper (even if the homework is online) is the best way to engage the brain in mathematics – because it requires that the student make his or her work an interactive, physical experience. On a screen, students are not as able to organize their own thoughts because computer keyboards are made for typing letters in text fields – not for the mechanics of a math problem. With a pencil, students can cross out and simplify, arrange and rearrange, multiply and divide, box in, circle around, and easily organize with another set of parentheses (parenthes-ease?), which engages our body and mind in a completely different (and better) way. Exerting effort into the basic experience of math on a page reaps major rewards in the conceptual understanding of material.

Moreover, with a dedication to good habits, the pencil creates a record that can be used as a study guide in the future. So what are these good habits? If a student does not do the following already, then this year is the best year to start.

  1. Take notes in class and review them for five or ten minutes each day
  2. Arrange all work in a vertical column, rather than in rows
  3. Show each step of work so that a stranger can follow the logic
  4. Box or circle all answers
  5. Keep and organize completed homework, quizzes, and tests for future study

Rescue Tutoring Service offers a multidisciplinary approach to education, helping students “connect the dots” across diverse subject matter. To learn more visit or contact Chad Kistler at 808.633.1171 or