## FAQ: Forgetting What They Learned

“As we go through each lesson, it seems like my daughter has a good handle on the concepts, but when we get to the test she forgets everything. When I ask her about it, she shrugs and says, ‘I don’t know.’ What do you do when your child completely loses what she has learned?”

Forgetting is the human brain’s natural defense mechanism. It keeps us from being overwhelmed by the abundance of sensory data that bombards us each moment of every day.

Our children’s minds will never work like a computer that can store a program and recall it flawlessly months later.

Sometimes, for my children, a gentle reminder is enough to drag the forgotten concept back out of the dust-bunnies of memory.

Other times, I find that they answer “I don’t know” out of habit, because it’s easier than thinking about the question. And because they’d prefer to be doing something else.

And still other times, I find out they didn’t understand the topic as well as I thought they did when we went through it before.

No matter how we adults try to explain the concepts, some kids want to be answer-getters. They don’t want to do the hard work of thinking a concept through until it makes a connection in their minds. They want to memorize a few steps and crank through the lesson to get it over with.

In all these cases, what helps me the most is conversation.

My children and I always talk about our math. I ask questions like “What do you think? What do you remember? Can you explain the question to me? What are they asking for?”

And, whether the child’s answer is right or wrong, I practice my poker face. Trying not to give anything away, I ask, “How did you figure it out? Can you think of a way to confirm your answer?”

### Talking Math with Your Kids

If you have preschool and elementary-age kids, read Christopher Danielson’s inspiring book and blog:

For middle school and older students, check out Fawn Nguyen’s wonderful collection of Math Talks. Be sure to read the “Teachers” page for tips and talking points:

“You don’t need special skills to do this. If you can read with your kids, then you can talk math with them. You can support and encourage their developing mathematical minds.”

— Christopher Danielson

### Playful Ways to Learn or Review Math

Games are a great way to practice math. Check out these (free!) math games for all ages:

And if you have elementary-age children, here are a few grade-level tips to help them learn (and remember) math concepts:

Credits: Girl in field photo by SOURCE Hydration Systems and Sandals technology via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0) Nigerian classroom photo by Doug Linstedt and young girl studying by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash.

This post is an excerpt from my book Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together—and Enjoy It, as are many of the articles in my Let’s Play Math FAQ series.

I’ve been working on my next Playful Math Singles book, based on the popular Things to Do with a Hundred Chart post.

My hundred chart list began many years ago as seven ideas for playing with numbers. Over the years, it grew to its current 30+ activities.

Now, in preparing the new book, my list has become a monster. I’ve collected almost 70 ways to play with numbers, shapes, and logic from preschool to middle school. Just yesterday I added activities for fraction and decimal multiplication, and also tips for naming complex fractions. Wow!

Gonna have to edit that cover file…

In the “Advanced Patterns” chapter, I have a section on math debates. The point of a math debate isn’t that one answer is “right” while the other is “wrong.” You can choose either side of the question — the important thing is how well you support your argument.

Here’s activity #69 in the current book draft.

### Have a Math Debate: Adding Fractions

When you add fractions, you face a problem that most people never think of. Namely, you have to decide exactly what you are talking about.

For instance, what is one-tenth plus one-tenth?

Well, you might say that:

$\frac{1}{10}$  of one hundred chart
+ $\frac{1}{10}$  of the same chart
= $\frac{2}{10}$  of that hundred chart

But, you might also say that:

$\frac{1}{10}$  of one chart
+ $\frac{1}{10}$  of another chart
= $\frac{2}{20}$  of the pair of charts

So what happens if you see this question on a math test:

$\frac{1}{10}$  + $\frac{1}{10}$  = ?

If you write the answer “$\frac{2}{20}$”, you know the teacher will mark it wrong.

Is that fair? Why, or why not?

CREDITS: Feature photo (above) by Thor/geishaboy500 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). “One is one … or is it?” video by Christopher Danielson via TED-Ed. This math debate was suggested by Marilyn Burns’s blog post Can 1/3 + 1/3 = 2/6? It seemed so!

Today we have a guest post — an exclusive tale by Sasha Fradkin and Allison Bishop, authors of the new math storybook Funville Adventures. Enjoy!

Funville Adventures is a math-inspired fantasy that introduces children to the concept of functions, which are personified as magical beings with powers.

Each power corresponds to a transformation such as doubling in size, rotating, copying, or changing color. Some Funvillians have siblings with opposite powers that can reverse the effects and return an object to its original state, but other powers cannot be reversed.

In this way, kids are introduced to the mathematical concepts of invertible and non-invertible functions, domains, ranges, and even functionals, all without mathematical terminology.

We know about Funville because two siblings, Emmy and Leo, were magically transported there after they went down an abandoned slide.

When they came back, Emmy and Leo shared their adventures with their friends and also brought back the following manuscript written by their new friend Blake.

## 2018 Mathematics Game — Join the Fun!

Let’s resolve to have fun with math this year. Ben has posted a preview of 2018’s mathematical holidays. Iva offers plenty of cool ways to think about the number 2018. And Patrick proposes a new mathematical conjecture.

But my favorite way to celebrate any new year is by playing the Year Game. It’s a prime opportunity for players of all ages to fulfill the two most popular New Year’s Resolutions: spending more time with family and friends, and getting more exercise.

So grab a partner, slip into your workout clothes, and pump up those mental muscles!

For many years mathematicians, scientists, engineers and others interested in mathematics have played “year games” via e-mail and in newsgroups. We don’t always know whether it is possible to write expressions for all the numbers from 1 to 100 using only the digits in the current year, but it is fun to try to see how many you can find. This year may prove to be a challenge.

## Rules of the Game

Use the digits in the year 2018 to write mathematical expressions for the counting numbers 1 through 100. The goal is adjustable: Young children can start with looking for 1-10, middle grades with 1-25.

• You must use all four digits. You may not use any other numbers.
• Solutions that keep the year digits in 2-0-1-8 order are preferred, but not required.
• You may use +, -, x, ÷, sqrt (square root), ^ (raise to a power), ! (factorial), and parentheses, brackets, or other grouping symbols.
• You may use a decimal point to create numbers such as .2, .02, etc., but you cannot write 0.02 because we only have one zero in this year’s number.
• You may create multi-digit numbers such as 10 or 201 or .01, but we prefer solutions that avoid them.

#### My Special Variations on the Rules

• You MAY use the overhead-bar (vinculum), dots, or brackets to mark a repeating decimal. But students and teachers beware: you can’t submit answers with repeating decimals to Math Forum.
• You MAY use a double factorial, n!! = the product of all integers from 1 to n that have the same parity (odd or even) as n. I’m including these because Math Forum allows them, but I personally try to avoid the beasts. I feel much more creative when I can wrangle a solution without invoking them.

## A Beautiful Puzzle

This lovely puzzle (for upper-elementary and beyond) is from Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky’s 1895 painting “Mental Calculation. In Public School of S. A. Rachinsky.” Pat Ballew posted it on his blog On This Day in Math, in honor of the 365th day of the year.

I love the expressions on the boys’ faces. So many different ways to manifest hard thinking!

Here’s the question:

No calculator allowed. But you can talk it over with a friend, as the boys on the right are doing.

You can even use scratch paper, if you like.

And if you’d like a hint, you can figure out square numbers using this trick. Think of a square number made from rows of pennies.

Can you see how to make the next-bigger square?

Any square number, plus one more row and one more column, plus a penny for the corner, makes the next-bigger square.

So if you know that ten squared is one hundred, then:

… and so onward to your answer. If the Russian schoolboys could figure it out, then you can, too!

### Update

Simon Gregg (@Simon_Gregg) added this wonderful related puzzle for the new year:

## How to Succeed in Math: Answer-Getting vs. Problem-Solving

You want your child to succeed in math because it opens so many doors in the future.

But kids have a short-term perspective. They don’t really care about the future. They care about getting through tonight’s homework and moving on to something more interesting.

When kids face a difficult math problem, their attitude can make all the difference. Not so much their “I hate homework!” attitude, but their mathematical worldview.

Answer-getting asks “What is the answer?”, decides whether it is right, and then goes on to the next question.

Problem-solving asks “Why do you say that?” and listens for the explanation.

Problem-solving is not really interested in “right” or “wrong”—it cares more about “makes sense” or “needs justification.”

### Homeschool Memories

In our quarter-century-plus of homeschooling, my children and I worked our way through a lot of math problems. But often, we didn’t bother to take the calculation all the way to the end.

Why didn’t I care whether my kids found the answer?

Because the thing that intrigued me about math was the web of interrelated ideas we discovered along the way:

• How can we recognize this type of problem?
• What other problems are related to it, and how can they help us understand this one? Or can this problem help us figure out those others?
• What could we do if we had never seen a problem like this one before? How would we reason it out?
• Why does the formula work? Where did it come from, and how is it related to basic principles?
• What is the easiest or most efficient way to manipulative the numbers? Does this help us see more of the patterns and connections within our number system?
• Is there another way to approach the problem? How many different ways can we think of? Which way do we like best, and why?

### What Do You think?

How did you learn math? Did your school experience focus on answer-getting or problem-solving?

How can we help our children learn to think their way through math problems?