"I can't do this.  Why do I need to know this anyway?  Can't we just use the computer to do this?"


We have all heard this from someone; ourselves, our spouses, friends and all too often we hear this from our children.

We have seen math as a difficult subject for our generation and now we are seeing math become even more "frustrating", "boring", and "intimidating" for many of our children.  We have tried collaboration, individual tutoring and even extra home work as a means toward improvement.  But many of our efforts are met with failure, anger and even tears.  What is the key to overcoming the math "Mount Everest"?  While there is no band aid for healing math confusion, there are tips and strategies that are fundamental in changing your child's view of math and developing "number sense".


Math Must Make Sense

The most important thing is to remember that math must make sense.  Leading students to make connections between mathematics and how they will use it in their world is the starting point in engaging the mind.  Using circumstances like dividing an odd number of cookies in half for siblings to share illustrates "fraction sense". Using dice, playing cards or poker chips are fun ways for practicing addition, subtraction, multiplication or division.


Basic Operations

Next assess your child's ability to work with the four basic operations of math.  Having a sound foundation with addition and subtraction is invaluable for the child's understanding of multiplication and division.  Focusing on double facts, adding to 10, counting by any number to any number and understanding "how far apart" numbers are with subtraction are tools you can use to help your child understand how numbers relate to each other.



A basic tenant of working with fractions is that you can only add and subtract things that have the same name. For example, 1 apple + 1 apple = 2 apples, 1 banana + 1 banana = 2 bananas, and if I add 1 apple + 1 banana do I get 2 banapples or 2 fruit?  If I have 2 quarters and 4 nickles, do I have 6 quarkles or 6 coins?  The Law of Sameness tells us that we must create a common denominator, or name, to add and subtract items.  This becomes especially important as sameness is continually revisited throughout every level of mathematics, including algebra.

When a parent, mentor or teacher can show their child why things happen in math and how they relate to their world, the child can begin to enhance their "number sense".  The fear and intimidation of math melts away because they understand the magic that took place between the problem and the solution.  They will see how it relates to things they are interested in and that it's not really magical or mysterious.  It's just math, it happened, and it makes complete sense.



"Leading students to make connections between mathematics and how they will use it in their world is the starting point in engaging the mind."  
I respectfully disagree with this statement.  The fact is: Mathematics is about as far from the "real world" as any science can possibly be, and denial of this can permanently suppress a child's ability to understand math. 
Kids spend time on games all the time that have nothing to do with the real world, and math is no different than a game.  Mathematics should be a creative activity, but it is often taught as the following of a set of rules instead.
When a child is able to ask "why is 2+2=4 anyway?" then he has learned how to think about mathematics and it will become a game.  What do you do when you don't have an answer to sqrt(-1)?  Why, you just invent it! What does that decision have to do with the real world?  There is a reason why mathematics used to be a component of philosophy. 
Thomas P., I like your post. It is important that students feel the value of math being used around them in the real world. Otherwise, their theory that math holds no intrinsic value is validated. For example, when a student asks, "When am I ever going to use this?" I am able to say, "If you need to build a walkway around your deck that is two feet wide, 86 feet long and six inches deep, then it is important that you know how to determine the amount needed in order to estimate the cost, and to keep the contractor honest," or "If you know your miles-per-gallon, you can estimate the gas costs for a trip," or "If you learn how to evaluate the cost of inflation, you can use this to model a savings account to grow at the same rate." I tell them that from the time a person sets their alarm to wake up until the time they fall asleep watching the 11 o'clock news, their world revolves around math.
And, in the event that they should need to learn concepts such as imaginary numbers and other applications that may not be used in daily practice, I tell them that daily life is crammed full of problem solving. The training that they give their brain to solve algebra, trig and logic problems exercises their brain in practical, every day ways that will come in handy later.
Relating math to practical, daily components makes the concepts much less abstract. The students grasp this better. Great insight, Thomas P.


Thomas P.

Math Learning Center Owner/ Former Teacher

5+ hours
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