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How to teach math? Beats me.

Submitted by on Tuesday, 11 January 2011 One Comment

It’s not that I had the “bad math experience” in school that a recent newspaper article talks about – though I’m not sure what a “bad math experience” is because the article never defines it.

At least, I didn’t  have a bad experience until I ran into the malodorous leisure-suit wearing high school geometry teacher who liked to talk about his cows. That was the year that math quit making sense for me. Or maybe it was the year I tuned out and quit trying.

It’s not that I struggled constantly with math before geometry. I was just passionately uninterested. Yes, I know all the esoteric reasons that I should be interested, and I’ll admit that I use math theory and logic often in life. But math as a discipline? I’ve never had the discipline.

Couple math apathy with rusty skills, add a dash of changing times and what do you get? A parent not unlike many others, one who’s struggling to help her kids with the subject.

I expected to struggle eventually, though not as soon as second grade.

Part of the problem is that terminology has changed – kids no longer “carry” or “borrow,” they regroup. Another challenge is changing teaching techniques with a heavy reliance on pictures in the early grades. I can see where this helps – honestly, I can. But it’s frustrating when a kid quickly solves a problem, only to have to go back and draw little boxes that illustrate the solution. Remembering my high school algebra teacher’s lectures about showing you work, I make Big Guy do that. But it seems like a waste of time.

Contrast this to language arts, which is easy and natural for me. Start reading when they’re babies, then have them point out letters on signs as they learn. Ask ad nauseum what sound “dog” begins with and what letter makes that sound. Above all, keep reading.

With math, though, I’ve always been stumped beyond the obvious counting adventures. I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way from teachers and math night at school. Hint: Candy always helps. The guys  measure ingredients for recipes now, which dovetailed nicely with Big Guy’s introduction this week to fractions. We’ve often done charts to chronicle the guys’ progress toward saving for a coveted toy. Big Guy counts his own money at stores, and I make him calculate the difference between the time here and various relatives’ and friends homes.

And, yes, we drilled addition and subtraction facts into the ground last year. Maybe not enough, though, because I still catch Big Guy thinking about something that’s supposed to be an automatic answer to equations he’s nailed on tests for two years in a row.

Beyond that, I’m stumped. There are times when Big Guy appears to be, too. Subtraction with borrowing – er, regrouping – still throws him. I just don’t know what to do to make math learning a part of our daily lives the way that reading and social sciences are.

Maybe I should start saving now to pay the tutor. It’ll be one more math problem for the guys to help me with.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Loloma Rodriguez said:

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