If It Ain’t Repeated Addition, What Is It?

[Photo by SuperFantastic.]

Keith Devlin’s latest article, It Ain’t No Repeated Addition, brought me up short. I have used the “multiplication is repeated addition” formula many times in the past — for instance, in explaining order of operations. But according to Devlin:

Multiplication simply is not repeated addition, and telling young pupils it is inevitably leads to problems when they subsequently learn that it is not.

I found myself arguing with the article as I read it. (Does anybody else do that?) If multiplication is not repeated addition, then what in the world is it?

Continue reading If It Ain’t Repeated Addition, What Is It?

Diagnosis: Math Workbook Syndrome

Photo by otisarchives3.

I discovered a case of MWS (Math Workbook Syndrome) one afternoon, as I was playing Multiplication War with a pair of 4th grade boys. They did fine with the small numbers and knew many of the math facts by heart, but they consistently tried to count out the times-9 problems on their fingers. Most of the time, they lost track of what they were counting and gave wildly wrong answers.

Continue reading Diagnosis: Math Workbook Syndrome

How to Teach Math to a Struggling Student

photo by MC Quinn via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Paraphrased from a homeschool math discussion forum:

“Help! My daughter struggles with arithmetic. I guess she is like me: just not a math person. She is an outstanding reader. When we do word problems, she usually has no trouble. She’s a whiz at strategy games and beats her dad at chess every time. But numbers — yikes! When we play Yahtzee, she gets lost trying to add up her score. The simple basics of adding and subtracting confuse her.

“Since I find math difficult myself, it’s hard for me to know what she needs. What’s missing to make it click for her? She used to think math was fun and tested well above grade level, but I listened to some well-meaning advice and totally changed the way we were schooling. I switched from using workbooks and games to using Saxon math, and she got extremely frustrated. Now she hates math.”

Continue reading How to Teach Math to a Struggling Student

500 (?) and Counting

Photo by rileyroxx.

Could this be my 500th post? That doesn’t seem possible, even counting all those half-finished-and-then-deleted drafts. Well, at least it is my 500th something, according to the WordPress.com dashboard. And surely a 500th anything is worth a small celebration, right?

Maybe my students aren’t so bad, after all…

It has been awhile since I posted a link to Rudbeckia Hirta’s Learning Curves blog. Here are a few of her students’ recent bloopers:

Continue reading 500 (?) and Counting

How to Read a Fraction

Fraction notation and operations may be the most abstract math monsters our students meet until they get to algebra. Before we can explain those frustrating fractions, we teachers need to go back to the basics for ourselves. First, let’s get rid of two common misconceptions:

  • A fraction is not two numbers.
    Every fraction is a single number. A fraction can be added to other numbers (or subtracted, multiplied, etc.), and it has to obey the Distributive Law and all the other standard rules for numbers. It takes two digits (plus a bar) to write a fraction, just as it takes two digits to write the number 18 — but, like 18, the fraction is a single number that names a certain amount of whatever we are counting or measuring.
  • A fraction is not something to do.
    A fraction is a number, not a recipe for action. The fraction 3/4 does not mean, “Cut your pizza into 4 pieces, and then keep 3 of them.” The fraction 3/4 simply names a certain amount of stuff, more than a half but not as much as a whole thing. When our students are learning fractions, we do cut up models to help them understand, but the fractions themselves are simply numbers.

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Quiz: Those Frustrating Fractions

[Photo by jimmiehomeschoolmom.]

Fractions confuse almost everybody. In fact, fractions probably cause more math phobia among children (and their parents) than any other topic before algebra. Middle school textbooks devote a tremendous number of pages to teaching fractions, and still many students find fractions impossible to understand. Standardized tests are stacked with fraction questions.

Fractions are a filter, separating the math haves from the luckless have nots. One major source of difficulty with fractions is that the rules do not seem to make sense. Can you explain these to your children?

Start with an easy one…

Question #1

If you need a common denominator to add or subtract fractions…

  • Why don’t you need a common denominator when you multiply?

Continue reading Quiz: Those Frustrating Fractions