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.