By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman, MA
What is Math? Your third grader might answer, “Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.” In elementary school, most students are learning how to compute; however, computation is just a subset of Math. Actually, Math as a whole has much more to do with logic and the relationships between numbers and variables, as well as spacial relationships. People who are good at Math can do amazing things in the fields of Engineering, Physics, Statistics, Computer Programming and more. The problem for many children is getting past the computation to see how amazing Math can be.
Many children profess that they hate word problems. Math is word problems! This is how you apply your skills in real life situations. Many schools have new text books that emphasize thinking problems which include two or three steps (e.g., adding up the prices of different objects to buy at a store, and then receiving change). This is the kind of practical, thinking problem that children need to learn. However, many children have been bombarded by mostly computation and not enough thinking problems throughout elementary school; these students have difficulties when studying Algebra and Geometry, which require logic and thinking skills. In Geometry, students must prove postulates and theorems, which they may not be prepared to do based on their previous Math training.
What can we do to encourage a love and proficiency for Math?
Show your child that Math can be fun. I have a “fun” workbook I use with children to end the Math lesson on a good note. Here is a typical problem:
Choose a number. Add 9 to the number. Double the sum. Subtract 4. Divide the difference by 2. Subtract the original number. What do you get? [The answer is always 7.] (Source: “Scratch Your Brain Where it Itches,” Critical Thinking Press and Software)
Kids get a kick out of this. They can try it with all different numbers. They are amazed. You can find “fun” Math workbooks at teaching stores or large book stores.
Show your child how to be logical. Talk through real life situations of your own that require Math or logic skills. For example: “We need to buy enough pizza for eight of us. How many slices will each person eat? How many pies do we need? If the pizza costs $12.99, how much change will we get from a $20 bill? How much tip should we give the delivery man?”
Involve your child in household decisions that involve Math (or make some up). For example, “We are planning to buy a new carpet for the den. How many square feet do we need? Let’s measure and find out.”
Use manipulatives. Lower elementary teachers and tutors use manipulatives all the time. To teach place value, we use counters of different colors. To teach time, we use a teaching clock. To teach fractions, we use plastic or cardboard cutout shapes. To teach negative numbers, we use a number line. To teach area and perimeter, we use a ruler or a tape measure. For children of any age as well as adults, it is much easier to understand Math when the concepts are clearly demonstrated with these kinds of tools.
Teach children how to generalize. When helping your child with homework, don’t think of each problem as its own entity. Think of each problem as a type of problem, and teach your child to do that type of problem. Then together you can think of other examples that require the same concept. Remember that if your child has the right set of Math skills, he can complete many different kinds of problems. Teach him how to use skills and concepts to complete more problems independently.
Repetition is key. No matter how well your child seems to understand a Math concept, most children need a great deal of repetition before they understand thoroughly. You want your child to be fluent in Math, and like Reading, this takes practice. It is very important to complete all Math homework. It may get boring, but most students won’t mind if it is also becoming easier. Even better, do extra problems. And when studying for a test, do more problems and check the answers.
Do not let your child become too far behind. Math continuously builds on previous skills. Gaps in Math skills can cause serious problems later on. For example, your child may have trouble with Algebra because she never really understood fractions. If you notice that she is falling behind, don’t wait. Help her with the skills she seems to be missing or find someone else who can help.
Most of us will agree that Math is an important part of being functionally literate. In addition, Math can be fun and exciting. If you don’t enjoy Math, try to find someone in your family who does, who can convey some enthusiasm to your children. Sometimes
it all boils down to a positive outlook and patience. Your child is smart enough to understand Math. He only needs the proper tools and assistance.