I vividly remember my 10th grade math class. I’d always done well in math and found it quite easy. Then I moved to another district with different standards and different testing methods. Suddenly, I found myself behind and struggling to get a good grade. Then the day came when my math teacher asked to speak to my parents. How could this be? I was a good student? I wondered what was wrong with me.
That was the turning point for me in that math class. The teacher told my parents that she did not believe I was capable of getting better than a C in her class. WHAT? I was ticked off. I knew I had been a good student and that I’d been good at math. So, what did I do? I went back to what I knew. I still listened and paid attention in class, but I went back to learning and studying the way I had before I’d moved.
It’s frustrating for parents and children when math becomes a struggle. Parents don’t want to see their child suffer, and many children simply don’t understand some math concepts easily or know how to follow a specific math process. In those situations, many homeschooling teachers fall back on what they were taught, usually with flash cards, drill and practice, showing your work, and even incentives. But none of these work if the child is struggling to understand the underlying concepts. Those practice strategies work when a child knows a fact or a process and needs to become more fluent in it. It does not teach concepts.
So how do you teach math concepts? Here are three key items to keep in mind to help teach your child math concepts.
Math concepts build upon one another. More so than any other subject, it is helpful to teach math using a sequential process. After all, you wouldn’t try to teach a child to multiply fractions before they understood what a fraction is. Even math facts are better memorized when they are taught sequentially.
Next, use manipulatives or visuals as much as possible depending on your own child’s learning preference. This doesn’t have to fancy or expensive, although some programs come with some great manipulatives (I personally use Math U See with one of my sons). Manipulatives can be pennies, toothpicks, jelly beans, or anything else that you can count. We’ll talk more about the various ways to use manipulatives in another post.
Finally, make it practical. How often do you use trigonometry? Unless you are an engineer, mathematician, statistician, or researcher, you likely don’t use the higher level math that you learned in school. This makes it hard for you as a teacher to make math practical, but that’s just what we need to do. For lower levels of math, it can be relatively easy to find examples. Any trip to the store or a restaurant provides a simple opportunity. Having your child do an allowance budget or mock investing is another practical example. For older students, find out what careers they are interested in and then investigate how math is used for that career.
My older son wants to be an architectural engineer. I try to relate as much math as I can to the various ways he will need that if he pursues that career as well as in real life. That gives purpose and meaning to a subject that could be too stressful otherwise.
My 10th grade math teacher was not a bad math teacher. But she didn’t realize how I needed to be taught in order to catch up with my peers in her class. It was my own initiative that allowed me to pull my math grade up and prove that teacher wrong. As homeschooling parents, we have the ability to individualize our instruction to our children so that they never experience those failures.