Uncle Rich’s Secret For Doing Math

So let me start by saying what I have probably said sometime before – my all time favorite title in the world is Uncle. There are a number of kids who refer to me as uncle – actual nieces and nephews, second/third/something-removed cousins, kids of friends, Godsons and Goddaughters…I have quite a few “kids”. When you are a teacher, and/or someone that has been in school for a long time you get to be the homework go to. Now don’t get me wrong, I do like to help with homework. I love to sit with someone and help him or her find some secret to learning the material. It is fun to see the proverbial light bulb go off when they get it. It is also fun to watch the parents look on and try to figure out exactly how I am going to pull all of this together into something useful. If you have read some of my stuff before you saw a little about a learning cycle and about thinking and behaviors based on neuroscience (Emergenetics). I ask my “student” to show me how they approach their homework. We talk a little about the process of doing homework. It helps to see what they are doing and how they approach the whole thing.

Homework…homework everywhere

Some of the homework cases I have been summons to help with range from math, English, history, and Spanish. I told a friend once that I had to go help my niece with her Spanish and his comment was, “I didn’t know you spoke Spanish, or knew enough to help with Spanish homework.” My response was, “Well I haven’t had it since high school, but I am sure she has a textbook we can work from.” She did. I think I helped. She said I did. Hmmmm… maybe she was just tired of my help. ¿No se? I love when they call me to help with math. My procedure is the same as I described. I have them walk me through a couple of problems or how they start their homework. From there I tell give them the secret to doing math (or really any homework). Here is the secret:
When you start write the letters E S F at the top of the paper.
Then follow that rule until you get to the end.
As you approach each problem or questions say to yourself, “this is easy, I got this…”
Glance at E S F and begin.
If the first one is a little tougher, move to the next one and repeat – eyes on ESF, “I got this”…and begin.


You are thinking, what is E S F? You are trying to make out some words for the acronym here. Ok, ok here you go – when you are doing your “homework” do all of the Easy Sh*t First. It makes them laugh. It doesn’t matter if you are helping a six year old or a college student (or an adult for that matter) it always gets a laugh. Come on, no matter how old we get when in doubt a butt joke or fart noise will make almost anyone laugh. I fully admit it; this is a cheesy way out. But, I don’t care. They laugh. If they relax a little then we are a little further down the completed homework path. Sometimes they are laughing in disbelief that a secret so simple is ONE something that will work and TWO really a secret. My answer is – it works and did you know the secret before I told you? Then it is a secret.

Think about it. When you are doing math is it easier to add or subtract? Would you rather add or do long division? Isn’t multiplication really just a shortcut for a bunch of addition problems? For algebra, don’t you convert subtraction into addition of a negative number? Don’t you add the numbers in the parentheses first? Reduce the fractions so they aren’t some big crazy intimidating number. Common denominators…duh. You do all the easy stuff first. When you look at the total homework assignment, go through and do the easy ones first. It gets your brain all warmed up and synapses start firing all over the place. A lot of times the answers, or hints to some problems are hidden in other problems. And even if the answers aren’t hiding later in the homework, you have at least half of the stuff done before you know it.

Writing homework like an essay or a report is similar process. The easy stuff (after the research) is to just start typing and getting the stuff down on paper. You really should be going back over it to proof read it and revise it before you submit it anyhow…so just get the fingers to dance over the keyboard and get all that brilliance down on paper and then go back and edit. Have ya ever noticed it is so much easier (ESF) to edit someone else’s work than a doing some cold writing of your own? If you write one day, wait, and edit the next, then it is almost like someone else wrote it. You might even think, “what were they (i.e., I) thinking.

One of my friends was listening to my ESF lesson with her daughter. My friend was also taking classes. She had a test later that week. I got a text a few days later that said, “hmmm Easy Sh*t First, Works…who knew.” I do tell my nieces and nephews that when their teacher asks what ESF mean they should say, “It’s my uncle’s secret and it means Easy Stuff First.” They all report that they are going to tell the teacher what it really means. Ok by me, I am the uncle. I don’t have to go to the Parent-Teacher conference. Another reason that Uncle is my favorite title.

Leadership and ability

Our ability to help those we work with and those that we lead is the same approach. When we have a task group where do we start? How do we approach the committee charge? We have to start somewhere; we start with the E S F. We start at the beginning. We define the project and determine things like a time line for completion. We start with the budget. We brainstorm some ideas. Most important, in my opinion, we understand the strengths and talents within our team and encourage those with that thinking preference or strength to spearhead the part of the project under their bailiwick, their expertise. If we let them show their natural ability and what they enjoy doing the most, then the whole group prospers.

So in the words of my friend, “hmmm E S F works, who knew.” You can…

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