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When You Get Stuck

Like a truck. In the mud.

Sometimes, when working out a math problem, we get stuck. Our tires are spinning like crazy, but we aren't moving forward a hair. Here's a neat trick: figuring out why we're stuck often tells us what we need to do to get un-stuck.

Sample Problem

Solve the equation 

We haven't seen anything like this equation before. We've seen things like it, but not exactly...we've seen other equations, but we...oh, you know what we mean. The is in the denominator of the fraction instead of in the numerator. Because we don't know what to do about that, let's get the x out of the denominator. Quickly, before it causes any trouble. Let's try multiplying both sides of the equation by x.

1 = 10x

From here, we know what to do. Divide both sides by 10 to finish up.

Next time you get stuck on a problem, write a note in the margin saying, "I don't know what to do here because...(fill in the blank)." For example, you might write, "I don't know what to do here because there's a freaky-looking x in the denominator." See if knowing why you're stuck helps you find a way to get un-stuck. It may surprise you how much simply writing down the point of confusion can help you clear away the cloud. If that doesn't work, you can always try a rain dance.

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