## Parents, Teachers: Learn about Teaching Decimals

Many children are confused by decimals. They are convinced 0.48 > 0.6 because 48 is obviously ever so much bigger than 6. Their intuition tells them 0.2 × 0.3 = 0.6 has the clear ring of truth. And they confidently assert that, if you want to multiply a decimal number by 10, all you have to do is add a zero at the end.

What can we do to help our kids understand decimals?

Christopher Danielson (author of Talking Math with Your Kids) will be hosting the Triangleman Decimal Institute, a free, in-depth, online chat for “everyone involved in children’s learning of decimals.” The Institute starts tomorrow, September 30 (sorry for the short notice!), but you can join in the discussion at any time:

Past discussions stay open, so feel free to jump into the course whenever you can. Here is the schedule of “classes”:

## How to Understand Fraction Division

photo by Scott Robinson via flickr

A comment on my post Fraction Division — A Poem deserves a longer answer than I was able to type in the comment reply box. Whitecorp wrote:

Incidentally, this reminds me of a scene from a Japanese anime, where a young girl gets her elder sister to explain why 1/2 divided by 1/4 equals 2. The elder girl replies without skipping a heartbeat: you simply invert the 1/4 to become 4/1 and hence 1/2 times 4 equals 2.

The young one isn’t convinced, and asks how on earth it is possible to divide something by a quarter — she reasons you can cut a pie into 4 pieces, but how do you cut a pie into one quarter pieces? The elder one was at a loss, and simply told her to “accept it” and move on.

How would you explain the above in a manner which makes sense?

## Rate Puzzle: How Fast Does She Read?

[Photo by Arwen Abendstern.]

If a girl and a half
can read a book and a half
in a day and a half,
then how many books can one girl read in the month of June?

Kitten reads voraciously, but she decided to skip our library’s summer reading program this year. The Border’s Double-Dog Dare Program was a lot less hassle and had a better prize: a free book! Of course, it didn’t take her all summer to finish 10 books.

## The Cookie Factory Guide to Long Division

Help! My son was doing fine in math until he started long division, but now he’s completely lost! I always got confused with all those steps myself. How can I explain it to him?

Long division. It’s one of the scariest of the Math Monsters, those tough topics of upper-elementary and middle school mathematics. Of all the topics that come up on homeschool math forums, perhaps only one (“How can I get my child to learn the math facts?”) causes parents more anxiety.

Most of the “helpful advice” I’ve seen focuses on mnemonics (“Dad/Mother/Sister/Brother” to remember the steps: Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring down) or drafting (turn your notebook paper sideways and use the lines to keep your columns straight). I worry that parents are too focused on their child mastering the algorithm, learning to follow the procedure, rather than on truly understanding what is happening in long division.

An algorithm is simply a step-by-step recipe for doing a mathematical calculation. But WHY does the algorithm work? If our students could understand the reason for the steps, they wouldn’t have to work so hard on memory tricks.

## Review: Math Doesn’t Suck

We’ve all heard the saying, Don’t judge a book by its cover, but I did it anyway. Well, not by the cover, exactly — I also flipped through the table of contents and read the short introduction. And I said to myself, “I don’t talk like this. I don’t let my kids talk like this. Why should I want to read a book that talks like this? I’ll leave it to the public school kids, who are surely used to worse.”

Okay, I admit it: I’m a bit of a prude. And it caused me to miss out on a good book. But now Danica McKellar‘s second book is out, and the first one has been released in paperback. A friendly PR lady emailed to offer me a couple of review copies, so I gave Math Doesn’t Suck a second chance.

## Subtracting Mixed Numbers: A Cry for Help

Photo by powerbooktrance.

Paraphrased from a homeschool math discussion forum:

Help me teach fractions! My son can do long subtraction problems that involve borrowing, and he can handle basic fraction math, but problems like $9 - 5 \frac{2}{5}$ give him a brain freeze. To me, this is an easy problem, but he can’t grasp the concept of borrowing from the whole number. It is even worse when the math book moves on to $10 \frac{1}{4} - 2 \frac{3}{7}$ .

Several homeschooling parents replied to this question, offering advice about various fraction manipulatives that might be used to demonstrate the concept. I am not sure that manipulatives are needed or helpful in this case. The boy seems to have the basic concept of subtraction down, but he gets flustered and is unsure of what to do in the more complicated mixed-number problems.

The mother says, “To me, this is an easy problem” — and that itself is one source of trouble. Too often, we adults (homeschoolers and classroom teachers alike) don’t appreciate how very complicated an operation we are asking our students to perform. A mixed-number calculation like this is an intricate dance that can seem overwhelming to a beginner.

I will go through the calculation one bite at a time, so you can see just how much a student must remember. As you read through the steps, pay attention to your own emotional reaction. Are you starting to feel a bit of brain freeze, too?

Afterward, we’ll discuss how to make the problem simpler…

## Word Problems in Russia and America

Andrei Toom calls this an “extended version” of a talk he gave a few years ago at the Swedish Mathematical Society. At 159 pages [2010 updated version is 98 pages], I would call it a book. Whatever you call it, it’s a must-read for math teachers:

Main Thesis: Word problems are very valuable in teaching mathematics not only to master mathematics, but also for general development. Especially valuable are word problems solved with minimal scolarship, without algebra, even sometimes without arithmetics, just by plain common sense. The more naive and ingenuous is solution, the more it provides the child’s contact with abstract reality and independence from authority, the more independent and creative thinker the child becomes.