Math is one of those subjects that cannot be mentioned with producing some type of emotional response in people. Either they love it or they hate it. Some people fear it.
Many of the students I work with hate math because it’s hard, boring and they don’t understand it. I must confess, some of my own children don’t like math. This saddens me, because I love math. I feel like I’ve somehow failed because I’ve been unable to pass on my love of math to my children.
But I think I’ve found the problem.
We’ve used a math curriculum that focuses on drill, and technique, through working lots and lots of problems. What we haven’t done is explore the wonder of numbers, and problem solving. As I think back on my own childhood, I didn’t like basic calculation either. Though it was necessary, it was boring and tedious to me.
I still find tedious, repetitive tasks mind numbing.
I began to love math, when I took Algebra. I loved the problem solving. I still do. I even work problems with my students for fun. I enjoy the challenge of struggling to solve a problem, and then discovering the solution! The Aha! moment!
The Two Sides of Math
Their are two sides to math. One side uses the left half of our brain primarily. The left hemisphere of our brain is the logical, sequencing, detailed side. That side of the brain loves counting, identifying numbers, and calculating answers. It specializes in repetitive tasks, completed quickly, logically and orderly.
Kids who love details, order and repetition usually enjoy this kind of math. Once they know what to do, they can simply focus on getting it “right”. For them, math is all about having the “right” answers.
The other side of math is all about solving problems and using math to express real world observations. This is all about understanding, and making connections between facts. The right half of the brain specializes in these skills. It allows us to explore new things, connect with people, to find a practical use for the facts we acquire. This side hates boring repetition. It wants to explore and experience new things!
Kids who enjoy challenges, and exploring will enjoy this side of math. The joy for them is all about the process of understanding and working through a problem. Even if the problem isn’t perfectly “right”, they are ok. They aren’t consumed with the final answer. They are more focused on how to get to the answer.
As we are teaching our children math, it’s important that our children learn both sides of math. They must learn the logical, detail, sequential, procedural part of math, but they must also understand math and use it in practical ways. That’s the point–right? Kids aren’t learning math simply because it’s a required skilled. Math is highly relevant in our lives. It’s important that students see the relevancy and practicality of math.
Have you observed that your child leans to one side or the other? It might explain your child’s struggles or strengths with math.
Here are some tips for teaching math:
Teach your children how to think and solve problems with math:
- Explain math concepts, not just the procedures. As I’ve been doing this, I’ve been learning new things about math myself. Ask yourself “why” a certain formula, or procedure works.
- Solve word problems, puzzles, and brain teasers. These make students “think”. Don’t let them give up too soon. These problems can take some time, so give them only a few of these. Give them hints if they are struggling, but encourage them to persist in finding the solution. If they can’t figure out the answer, work through the problem together.
- Have your child find multiple ways of answering a question. Use something simple.
- Here’s an example, if I were finding the perimeter of a square, I could add up all of the sides, or I could take one side and multiple by 4. Both are correct.
- Have your child teach you or another sibling. This is when understanding is solidified.
- Have your child create their own problems for YOU to solve. They always LOVE giving us problems to solve. This is a great way to give them a challenge, since they need to know the answer as well.
- Have your children solve real-world problems. Use fractions when cooking. Use percentages when buying something on sale. Learn about area when measuring your floor space. Have them work on addition and/or subtraction while playing a board game. (My oldest son taught himself addition while playing basketball!)
- Play Games. Monopoly, and Life have been some great games to sneak in a little basic calculation for our kids. When they ask for the calculator, I say use that calculator in your head. It’s good practice for them.
Practice the skills of math. Most text books are great for this, and it does NOT need to be expensive. A basic math book is great for practicing the skills of basic computations with whole numbers, decimals, and fractions. Here’s a few tips that I’ve learned :
- Every child needs a different amount of practice. Some need to do every problem on the page, plus extra pages. Others can work a few problems and be completely fine. You, the teacher, need to make that judgement.
- Expect errors. People make errors even when they know what to do. I define an error as a miscalculation, or inadvertently missing a step. Students usually recognize their errors and know exactly how to correct them. Focus on your child’s effort. They’ve worked hard!
- Correct one or two errors, instead of every error. It’s really not necessary to correct every incorrect problem. That can be torture for some kids.
- Incorrect problems may mean more teaching is necessary. If a child has a large number of incorrect problems, it probably means that they don’t have a clear understanding of the concept yet. That’s ok. Reteach, give them an opportunity to practice again. Look for the light bulb moment.
- Periodic review of skills is necessary. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to review every skill, every day, but there needs to be a system of regular review in place. This solidifies the neural pathways in the brain. There are many ways to review. You can do this through using multi-step word problems, or giving your child an assignment which includes many previously used skills.
- Inexpensive workbooks are great for practicing and reviewing basic skills.
Don’t allow the math book to be your master. Move math from the textbook, and into real life.
When we “sneak” math into unexpected places, your children may find that they really do love math. It’s sorta like sneaking veggies into something your child likes. Hey, if it works, do it!
What tip was most helpful for you? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.