A recent Gallup poll asked students to name
their most difficult subject. Not surprisingly, mathematics topped the list.
Why is math so challenging for so many kids? The answer is that it requires two
very important abilities—patience and perseverance.
That Math is a Cumulative Subject
It is also the sole
subject that is nearly 100 percent cumulative. Students must have a strong
foundation in order to be successful. In the elementary years a child has to
have a clear understanding of our place value system in order to add, subtract,
and multiply large numbers. The basic skills, such as addition, provide the
framework for understanding multiplication. Fractions and decimals lay the
groundwork for ratios and percentages.
It is the ability to
reason through multi-step word problems that helps middle school students find
success in math. However this is precisely when many youngsters start to lose
ground—in the middle school years. If they have a shaky foundation and are even
earning Cs, they have likely understood only about half the material. They move
on without truly grasping and maintaining they are likely to fall further
behind, lose confidence, dislike the subject, and take fewer advanced classes.
that Math Isn’t Taught Like It Used to Be
If you see that your
child is struggling with homework, get involved. Let the teacher know what is
happening. As your child starts daily homework, be sure he understands how to
do the first few problems before he goes at it on his own. As you monitor your
child, you may find that computation isn’t taught as it used to be. When we as
parents were in elementary school, learning involved rote memory. We “carried”
and “borrowed” (although now it’s called regrouping), because we were told
that’s the way to do it. It’s unlikely we knew the reason behind the
computation. These days, that approach is no longer the norm. Children are
taught the “why” behind math through the use of manipulatives, namely Base-10
blocks. These blocks are used to represent ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands.
Invest in a set for your household if you have children in the primary grades so
you can better assist them with homework.
In order to make math
fun, offer an alternative to traditional flash cards for teaching math facts.
Use any board game, such as Checkers or Operation. Before each player takes his
turn by selecting a game card or rolling the dice, he must first pick up a
flashcard (no answer visible) and state the answer. If the answer is correct,
he can then choose a game card/roll the dice and play the board game as usual.
For more on incorporating games, be sure to read the next chapter. Kids love
this approach because it makes something that was once painful, painless.
Toss an inflatable
Multiplication Quiz Cube back and forth to practice facts. Make up rules such
as, “Catch it and say the fact your left thumb is touching.” My students are
keen on this game because it gets them moving around. Another fun idea is to
grab a deck of cards and play Multiplication War. Each player flips up two
cards from their deck, multiplies the two numbers together and states the product.
Whoever has the highest answer wins all four cards. The person with the most
cards at the end of the game wins.
If you insist upon
using flashcards, let your child hold the cards and quiz you. Studies show that
merely allowing the student to hold the cards and take on the role of the
teacher increases time on task and retention of data.
For many students, word
problems present great difficulty. This is because they have to apply their
knowledge to a novel situation, not simply regurgitate facts. If your child is
struggling with word problems, consider using the FOPS acronym strategy to
*Find the problem type.
*Organize the information
in the problem using a diagram.
*Plan to solve the
*Solve the problem.
The first step is for
the child to identify the type of problem. What is she being asked to do? Next,
she has to put the information she has into a diagram; in essence, she is
drawing a picture as a model. Next, this information has to be put into a
number sentence or equation and lastly, she must solve the problem. Research
shows that when students use the same strategy, such as FOPS, to attack each
problem, they are far more likely to be successful.
Students—Make a Practice Test
Long-term memory is
enhanced when students take “interactive” practice tests. A highly effective
way to prepare for an exam involves creating a practice test. This means that
the student generates a sample test of questions he thinks may be on the exam.
This information can come from correct examples in the text book, from old
tests and quizzes, or notes. If the student gets stuck, he can easily refer
back to the correct steps. In addition, I always encourage my students to ask
their teacher about the format of the test. Will it be comprised of answer-only
or multiple-choice? Will the student receive partial credit for showing her
work? Having this information helps with preparation.
If you find that as a
parent, you’re not the best teacher for your child, consider hiring a tutor to
teach these study skills. A tutor comes to the table as a skilled and objective
third party, without an emotional history with your child. One-to-one attention
from the classroom teacher or a tutor can make the difference between grasping
the material or falling further behind. GFM
Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of
Educational Connections, Inc., a comprehensive provider of educational services
(ectutoring.com). Check out her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for
Stress-Free Homework (anndolin.com).
By Ann K.