PUFM 1.2 Place Value

Photo by Chrissy Johnson1 via flickr. In this Homeschooling Math with Profound Understanding (PUFM) Series, we are studying Elementary Mathematics for Teachers and applying its lessons to home education.

Our decimal system of recording numbers is ingenious. Once learned, it is a simple, versatile, and efficient way of writing numbers. … But the system is not obvious nor easily learned. The use of place value is subtle, and mastering it is the single most challenging aspect of elementary school mathematics.

Ironically, these challenges are largely invisible to untrained parents and teachers — place value is so ingrained in adults’ minds that it is difficult to appreciate how important it is and how hard it is to learn.

— Thomas H. Parker & Scott J. Baldridge
Elementary Mathematics for Teachers

In other words, we take place value for granted. I know this was true of me when I started teaching my kids. Every year, their textbooks would start with the obligatory chapters on place value, which seemed to me just busywork. I began to appreciate the vital importance of place value when I read Liping Ma’s book and saw how the American teachers were unable to properly explain subtraction or multi-digit multiplication.

Place value is the heart of our number system, the foundation on which all the rest of arithmetic must be built. Because of place value, “The simplest schoolboy is now familiar with facts for which Archimedes would have sacrificed his life.”

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Update: My Math Books

photo by goXunuReviews via Flickr

Are you a homeschooler? Are you happy with your current curriculum, or would you like to break out of the textbook mold and explore math through “living” books and activities? Whether you hope to replace your math program or just to supplement it, I can show you ways to turn math into a learning adventure for the whole family. Your children will build a stronger foundation of understanding when you teach math as a game, playing with ideas.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote:

This blog originally grew out of my books, and now it’s coming full circle: New, expanded editions of my long-out-of-print books are ripening on the vine, growing out of the blog. To bring them to harvest, I’m going to need your help.

It has taken much longer than I had hoped to whip the manuscripts into form. My new goal is to publish ebook editions, since I will be able to sell them for about half what the original books cost twelve years ago. I’m hoping that I can finish at least a couple of the ebooks by mid-summer.

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PUFM 1.1 Counting

Photo by Iain Watson via flickr. In this Homeschooling Math with Profound Understanding (PUFM) Series, we are studying Elementary Mathematics for Teachers and applying its lessons to home education.

Many things in mathematics need to be understood relationally — that is, in relationship to other concepts. But some things just need to be memorized. How do you know which is which? A homeschooling friend pointed out that one thing children definitely need to memorize is the counting sequence from 1-100 and beyond. While there are some patterns that make counting easier, one does just have to memorize which “nonsense sounds” we have attached to each number.

Another sort-of counting that young students should master is subitizing — recognizing at a glance how many items are in a small group. Children do this instinctively, but we can help them develop the skill by playing subitizing games.

[Aside: In writing this blog post, I ran into some nostalgia. Back when we first did these PUFM lessons, my daughter Kitten was only a toddler. I wrote, “I’ve tried to do lots of counting with my youngest, who hasn’t quite gotten beyond, ‘…eleven, twelve, firteen, firteen, nineteen, seven,…’ The numbers tend to start appearing randomly after she gets past 10.” Ah, memories.]

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PUFM 1.0 Preface

Profound Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics (PUFM) is a phrase coined by Liping Ma in her landmark book, Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, to describe the deep, broad, and thorough understanding exhibited by several of the Chinese teachers she interviewed.

You gain PUFM the hard way: by teaching. The Chinese teachers with PUFM were the ones who had taught for years, taught multiple levels, and studied intensively the materials they taught. I doubt there’s any other way to do it. Home schooling is great for developing PUFM because you teach for years and teach multiple levels. The problem is, by the time you really understand the stuff, the kids are grown. Here are a few hints to help speed up the process a little bit:

  • Learn as much as you can, wherever you can, even when the topic doesn’t seem to relate to what your kids are studying now. Ask questions.
  • Pick up library books on math (510-519 on the Dewey Decimal shelves), some of which you’ll find helpful and some will bore you to distraction. Read the helpful ones and return the others — but try to get through at least 10 pages of a math book before giving up. You’ll learn a lot that way.
  • Always look for connections between topics. Think about how addition and subtraction are related, or addition and multiplication, or fractions and division. Think about how the different levels of understanding a topic are related. (Hint: Start by reading the lesson titles as well as the lessons themselves. Lay out a few years’ worth of math books and just read lesson titles, to see how it all goes together.)
  • Work on picking up the math vocabulary (distributive property, factors, sum, numerator, etc.) yourself and using it as you teach. Having the right words will help you hold ideas in your mind.

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Math Teachers At Play #49 via Teach Beside Me

I am excited to host the 49th Math Teachers at Play Blog Carnival this week! Did you know April is Math Awareness Month? That makes it a great time to learn more about the amazing thing all of these mathematicians are doing!

Since it is the 49th Carnival, here are some fun facts about the number 49 …

Go read the post at Teach Beside Me!

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PUFM 1.0 Introduction

Profound Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics (PUFM) is a phrase coined by Liping Ma in her landmark book, Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, to describe the deep, broad, and thorough understanding exhibited by several of the Chinese teachers she interviewed.

The Chinese teachers with PUFM didn’t get it automatically. It grew over many years of teaching several levels of elementary math and of studying their textbooks and teaching materials. They met weekly in teaching research groups to learn from each other’s experience, to find multiple ways to solve problems, and to broaden their mathematical understanding.

More than eight years ago, a group of homeschooling friends started a Yahoo “teaching research group” to discuss math in hope of deepening our own understanding and learning to better help our students. We had a good time, but the busy-ness of everyday life eventually won out. The group has mostly disbanded, though the archives remain. Now I’d like to bring that study to my blog, bit by bit, updated with things I’ve learned in the years since.

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