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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How to Keep Your Child From Failing Math

Don't let the title scare you!



When I tell people that DH is a math teacher I get a couple reactions, from admiration to the more common confession that they are terrified of math. I know many of you struggle to help your kids, and even wonder how you can keep them doing well in math as they progress.

The first thing I'd tell you is to stop telling yourself that you're "bad" at math. It would be unacceptable for you to go around telling people that you're "bad" at reading, "bad" at writing, and "bad" at driving. You keep that to yourself, because just like negative body image, your kid will pick that up right away.

The second thing that we see is preventable; it's something so simple, so basic, that if you make sure your kids knows it, they will be equipped to handle the math coming down the road...story first:

DH had a long conversation with a parent recently, a parent who was extremely upset at him because their child had 100% on all their math homework, yet scored 25% on the tests. The parent was furious, demanding an answer from him on why their child was failing despite having perfect homework.

DH pulled out the homework; it was full of correct answers--answers...but no work shown. He said he didn’t want to accuse any student of cheating when there’s always room for divine intervention--intervention that happened to desert the child during tests. So, DH made an offer: if the child could set up a problem from any of the homework, not solve, just set up the work, he’d be happy to grant the child an “A.” The child burst into tears. The parent soon grasped the picture.

What’s more, DH said, can you tell me what 7 times 8 is? The child thought for a few minutes and answered “42” then after another minute “56.” Here’s the problem, DH said, you never learned your times tables when you were supposed to, and I bet that every teacher after that allowed you to use a calculator until now, is that right? The child nodded. I suspect that you and your child will have a different type of summer activity planned soon, DH said to the parent.

So how do you help your kids with math, even if you feel inadequate to do so? The very first step is to make sure they have memorized the addition and multiplication tables. Every double digit addition and subtraction in their head. Every multiplication and division in their head. They should be able to answer instantaneously, with zero lag time. They should be able to do this by the 4th grade. If your child can't, you know where to start. Your kid should also be able to to count up to the 12th multiple for the first 12 counting numbers--i.e. 12, 24, 36, 48, etc, all the way up to 144 and back again without an “uhm” or a breath.

How do these things help? Instead of trying to figure out how the numbers all fit together, your kids will be able to concentrate on the problem in front of them. If you can make sure your child knows their tables they’ll be prepared for the advanced stuff. You would not believe how many kids reach high school without basic addition, subtraction, and multiplication--it is the fundamental root of so many kids failing math.

Now you know. And you can prevent it.

39 comments:

Becca said...

My mom taught 7th and 8th grade math for many years and said the biggest problem she found was kids who didn't know their "math facts". Consequently, my children are "required" to play a game from Fun4thebrain.com every single school day--addition up until 2nd grade, multiplication after that.

I SO agree with everything you've said!

sarahlucy said...

I hate to be a brat but...when I was in high school I showed my work, never copied. (Also, none of my math teachers even accepted hw without all the work shown.) I knew my multiplication tables like the back of my hand. I got the highest grade in my class in geometry (the only A in the class)...and I was still just plain bad at Algebra (I and II). Like, bad bad bad. Even though I came in at lunch and after school for help...And for me, high school was only like 5 years ago...

Azúcar said...

Sarahlucy- There are many reasons why someone might have a rough time in their math classes, but the number one problem teachers see that contributes to outright failure are kids who don't know their tables. I'm hoping to cover some of the other reasons soon, but at least this gives parents a where-to-start benchmark.

soybeanlover said...

I've never understood why people think it's ok to say they are bad at math. It's like Barbie saying "math is hard". Thank you! Now let's go read some Danica McKellar books.

mommymel said...

I'm putting in a shameless plug for a little electronic device called the flashmaster, you can find it and testimonials from amazon and it links to their website. Not only do they have fabulous customer service, but the product is great for drilling the add/subtract/multiply/divide basics up throug the 12 tables. I have NO connection with them other than being a very happy customer. This thing help my triplets get drilled on and learn their multiplication tables super fast. I just didn't have the bandwidth to do it on my own. I tell everyone abut it because I love it so much.
okay, back to regular programming!

dalene said...

I wish I'd have read this about five years ago.

Annette Lyon said...

This should be required reading for parents.

sue-donym said...

You have no idea how this hit me Carina. Like a punch in the gut.
This describes my school life to a T. I never grasped the fundamentals, and therefore struggled (and continue to) with these concepts. It still hurts. Emotionally and practically.
Every parent of young children needs this advice. Make sure your kids KNOW the basics.
Well said C.

Lucky said...

What are te different ways to learn those facts? My kids are at the perfect ages for this step. My oldest is in 5th and (I guess) the way they taught him to memorize didn't work well for him because he still struggles. He's had charts, flash cards, and we've tried some apps. I think we need to start from scratch :-/

Michelle said...

My hubby is such a believer in this-- he makes our kids do math worksheets every day. In some ways, schools have pushed the 'ready 20 minutes every night' too much while neglecting math.

Great post, Carina.

Tyla said...

Absolutely!!! I taught 3rd grade for ten years prior to moving into the library and the one thing I stressed to parents and students above all else was to memorize those math facts. "They will haunt you from here on out if you don't", I would tell them. All it takes is a little nightly practice. Still, many parents would not carry through on this. Quite sad.

Anonymous said...

That is sooo true, thank you! I'm a primary school teacher and I couldn't agree more - if the kids don't know their tables by heart by the end of 4th grade, they run into big problems.

sara said...

Love it. I've always loved math (was a math major in fact) and I'm so glad my kids' elementary school makes them do timed 100 math fact pages from 1st grade on up. It gets them to the point of not having to think about it; they just know those facts!

Kacy said...

Good tip, thanks. You should write more about this.

Rynell said...

Yes! My kids have monthly tests on their math facts and they are in 1st, 4th and 6th grades. The goal is to master them and I get to see how many facts they get right each month and then I know what we need to work on. The math program is one of the main reasons I love my kids' school.

Barb @ getupandplay said...

So many successes or failures later in life can be traced back to the basics! Math tables, typing, basic spelling and grammar, etc. It isn't "busywork", it's foundational!

Diana said...

I love this post. I really do. My niece is having a little trouble (in 3rd grade) with her math because the school/teachers never required them to learn the basics. So now at the end of third grade, she is suddenly have to memorize her times tables at the same time she is learning how to multiply fractions. Crazy.

In my son's school, they are fond of telling parents that it isn't the same math the we learned. I have cringed when I heard this and am prepared to be a smart mouth the next time someone at the school says that. It is the same math - the facts don't change - just the way it is taught changes. When statements like that from teachers and administrators though, some parents are justifiably confused as to what they should be doing to help.

Jenny said...

I love you, your husband, and this blog post!

Caroline said...

True story: I made flashcards last night for my first grader because he took too long to tell me what 7+7 was.... and that's just not acceptable to me.

Marianne & Clayton said...

In grade school, I was sick and had to stay home for one whole week. The week we learned our times tables. To this day I still get nervous if someone asks me a multiplication question. I know the answers and have a fairly good aptitude for math, but that week of missing those drills and songs has forever left me pausing or flustered when faced with 8 x 7 (for example).

You can't stress enough how important those skills are! Thank you for this post. I hope it's one of a series.

Kalli Ko said...

I am living proof of the truth of this post. I am 29 years old, graduated second in my class (of 38, SNORT!), and have struggled my entire life with math anxiety mostly because of multiplication. My ACT score would have been off the chart and near perfect if I hadn't scored so low on the math portion.

I could do the work but it took me so long,I had difficulty understanding concepts because I spent so much time figuring out the multiplication and division without a calculator. I even got sent to the principal's office once after staying behind to ask for help when my teacher became concerned that I could not answer a simple multiplication problem when he asked me (I froze). I was 18 and that still gives me anxiety when I think about it.

Needless to say, I don't want my kids to have the same problem. Paul is great at math. I'm going to start working on better memorizing my times tables. It's never too late.

Cardine said...

I so agree with this. I was sick for like a week in elementary school, and when I got back, they were doing these challeges where you had to write down all the multiplications from 0 to 12 dealing with the number 8. And you had to do it all in 1 minute. If you didn't pass it, you had to do it again the next day. I felt so behind because I had to start at 0, but I'm so glad I made the effort to try to catch up and learn it with everyone else! (I still suck at 12s because they stopped doing it before I got there.)

TopHat said...

My BS is in maths and I've tutored college students who have really ingrained the "Math is scary" idea. I think that some, as children, are told math is hard and then they give up when anything that might resemble math appears. Of course, not all are like this: my sister has brain-related learning issues and tutoring her was completely different. I had one tutee who put all her math learning into short-term memory: enough to finish the homework and even show work, but by the time the midterm came around, it wasn't there anymore. Her view of math was that it was hard, she hated it, and she wanted to get the homework done ASAP and forget the class ASAP. It's hard as a tutor to deal with that. Where do you even start?!

rich said...

The worst thing about say "I'm bad at math" is that it sometimes becomes a badge of honor (several editorialists have talked about this).

It's basically like bragging to someone "I'm not a nerd".

... although, I do want to say calculus got really hard all of a sudden when I got to college (the worst grade on my BYU transcript).

But I would never say I'm can't do math.

Momoko Photography said...

Che happens to be the product developer for Marbles the Brain store. The focal point of the store is to help people keep their brain young so that they may live longer. The majority of those games are math related or solving puzzles.

Math keeps you young.

Likely said...

AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If that could be font size 500 it would be. amen amen amen amen amen. AMEN!!!! This is why when I taught 6th grade and realized that my sixth graders didn't know their multiplication tables I made them do times tests every week all year long. I had a standing offer that anyone that could beat me in a 100 problem multiplication worksheet would get an entire pizza of their choice delivered to them at lunch. In five years only one student did it. Johnny Liao. By 2 seconds, after trying half the year. I got the idea from my own 3rd grade teacher who took a group of us to McDonald's if we got under 3 minutes on our timing. I was always flabbergasted that by 6th grade they didn't know their tables. I was dead set on them knowing them before middle school. It is sort of ridiculous.

This comment is getting too long. But you should tell your husband to do that with his students. It's silly for HS, but they will thank him forever for making them learn them.

Likely said...

*timed tests.

Amy said...

Right on.

Azúcar said...

Likely - J doesn't usually have time to administer tables tests, he has to help his students with his curricula. He does give parents and students resources and urges them to work on the issue at home.

Laura: The Sushi Snob said...

My husband is a math major and a math tutor, and he will tell you that math *is* a hard thing, but not impossible to learn. Unless you're my brother and have a diagnosed math learning disability.

Math wasn't super hard for me until about fifth or sixth grade. I'm not horrible at math, but I'm not great at it either.

Oh by the way, people have the same reaction when I tell them that I studied English Language and Editing. They'll say, "Oh! I hate English!" I almost want to say, "Then why do you speak it?"

Laura: The Sushi Snob said...

And about the brother with the math learning disability: my mom never told him until he finished all of his math requirements. She didn't want him to use it as an excuse. He did have to retake math classes, but he worked his tail off to get the grades he needed.

Melissa said...

Do you have any suggestions on how to help someone who has working memory issues? My son tested in the bottom 2 percentile in working memory function. Basically he has trouble memorizing things and any time he has to use his short term memory and his long term memory at the same time he gets overwhelmed and just kinda shuts down. He did great in math until it came time to memorize multiplication and now he struggles all the time.

Likely said...

Oh, I wouldn't say he should do that every week like I did -- I had my students ALL day--- big difference. I just think he could tell them to practice at home and dish out the challenge and then once a month, or every couple month or if he has a few minutes to kill at the end of class he could say, "Anyone want to challenge me?". It takes all but three minutes. When he finishes, it's over.

Melissa -- if I were you I would post multiplication problem flashcards all over his room. Well, I would start with 1's, then 2's and on up to not overwhelm him. With my students who had a hard time with certain facts or even with spelling, I would tape the problem on their desk (or the words they were struggling with) and because they saw it day after day after day, it stuck. Not saying that it's a cure all, but i's a try and it can't hurt.

Amy Jones said...

Oh, my friend...is it allowable to blame my frequent "I'm bad at math" declaration on the fact that I am actually quite bad at math? Can I blame it on my Canadian math education? Something?

And what do I do when my child's school teaches math in a completely different way than I learned (what little I managed to learn)? They don't learn their tables. It's actually NOT encouraged. They've learned (sort of) the combinations to get 10..but that's IT.

It's the blind leading the blind over here. And, while I may be "not so talented" at math, my daughter could be great at it...I just don't know how to help her.

Angie said...

Amen to memorizing those math tables! In our school district (in Boise) they use the "Investigations" math curriculum. My daughter is learning how to multiply 4 times 5 by drawing four circles with 5 dots in them, then counting them. Or she calculates 8 times 6 by counting by eights - 8, 16, 24... until she gets the right answer. She cannot tell you a single multiplication fact past the 1's without some serious hesitation or just a blank stare. I fear for any of her generation that is being taught with this curriculum.

Needless to say, her summer will be filled with flash cards! Nothing can replace memorization.

Azúcar said...

Amy- that it's frowned upon is crazy. Like Angie, your best bet is flash cards or online games that are like flash cards to get the memorization done. There's no substitute.

Jillybean said...

So what do I do with a kid that aces all of his math tests, yet is failing the class because he hasn't done (or handed in) the homework??!

Shannon said...

I feel I should preface my response with "I'm not a mom," which is true, but I was a student. I agree with your basic premise, that kids need to learn to do those four basic operations automatically, but the very reason they need to is exactly so that they understand how the numbers work together, so that they learn how the numbers play together. But I agree that this should be something that every child learns sooner rather than later.

Britty said...

I'm glad you posted this. Brady has been getting by doing the math by adding on his fingers, and I realize now that he just needs to have the sums memorized. Great advice!