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

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…

Continue reading Subtracting Mixed Numbers: A Cry for Help

Nim Revisited

Photo by Sister72.

Dave at MathNotations offers another version of Nim that will give your students something to think about:

[1,2]-3-[4,5]-6-[7,8]…21 Helping Children Devise and Understand Winning Strategies

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Euclid’s Game on a Hundred Chart

Math concepts: subtraction within 100, number patterns, mental math
Number of players: 2 or 3
Equipment: printed hundred chart (also called a hundred board), and highlighter or translucent disks to mark numbers — or use this online hundred chart

Set Up

Place the hundred chart and highlighter where all players can reach them.

How to Play

  • Allow the youngest player choice of moving first or second; in future games, allow the loser of the last game to choose.
  • The first player chooses a number from 1 to 100 and marks that square on the hundred chart.
  • The second player chooses and marks any other number.
  • On each succeeding turn, the player subtracts any two marked numbers to find and mark a difference that has not yet been taken.
  • Play alternates until no more numbers can be marked.

Continue reading Euclid’s Game on a Hundred Chart

Game: Hundred Chart Nim

Photo by Håkan Dahlström via flickr.

Math concepts: addition and subtraction within 100, logical strategy
Number of players: 2 or 3
Equipment: printed hundred chart (also called a hundred board) and beans, pennies, or other tokens with which to mark numbers — or use this online hundred chart

Set Up

Place the hundred chart and a small pile of tokens where both players can reach them.

Continue reading Game: Hundred Chart Nim

Ben Franklin Math: Elementary Problem Solving 3rd Grade

The ability to solve word problems ranks high on any math teacher’s list of goals. How can I teach my students to solve math problems? I must help them develop the ability to translate “real world” situations into mathematical language.

In two previous posts, I introduced the problem-solving tools algebra and bar diagrams. These tools help our students organize the information in a word problem and translate it into a mathematical calculation.

Working Math Problems with Poor Richard

This time I will demonstrate these problem-solving tools in action with a series of 3rd-grade problems based on the Singapore Primary Math series, level 3A. For your reading pleasure, I have translated the problems into the universe of a well-written biography of Ben Franklin, Poor Richard by James Daugherty.

Continue reading Ben Franklin Math: Elementary Problem Solving 3rd Grade