Maths can be a tricky subject - both to learn and to teach.
So if you're struggling to teach maths, or you feel like your child is 'just not getting it', this article will give you some important questions to ask yourself - and your student - to help you both flourish and thrive with it.
Many kids struggle with the "normal" way of learning maths - you know the one... signs and symbols on a piece of paper in a workbook. But what even are numbers? What do they mean?
When you write a "3" on the page, kids have no experience to link that number to... they learned by sounding out "1.....2....3" apples. But now they have to associate that with a symbol on a page? No wonder so many parents end up struggling to teach maths.
Children are learning about how to understand maths and make it relevant in their daily lives.
For many of us, the experience of learning at home was restricted to after school, with coins and buttons and paddle-pop sticks. Our parents may have even cut up a pizza for dinner and explained angles and division across the family table.
But maths can seem daunting when you don't have proper instruction. When kids are hurtled through maths class to 'keep up with a curriculum' and don't understand what is being taught, they can quickly be left behind their peers.
But just because a child falls behind in class, doesn't mean they'll struggle with maths forever. It just means they need to learn it better - in a different way.
One of the ways we've seen a LOT of success over the years is when students use hands-on, concrete applications of maths concepts. Using manipulatives and colours, games and songs that you can learn with, use, feel and remember. That's why we're such advocates of the Math-U-See program, especially if you're a parent struggling to teach maths.
Students' confidence with numbers will increase and they'll be comfortable with maths and able to do all those 'adult' things they need maths for (you know, the fun stuff... like budgeting and tax returns).
So, if you're struggling to teach maths, here are some handy questions to ask...
1. Is Your Maths Curriculum the Reason Why You're Struggling to Teach Maths?
Is the math curriculum you’re using not right for your teaching style or the learning style of your student?
One factor in the equation is timing; how many days a week are you teaching math? How many minutes a day are you spending on each lesson? It will vary depending on the lesson.
And more and more research is coming out about the best approaches to learning subject matter, with mastery-based approaches being widely recognised for their successful outcomes.
There’s also your student to keep in mind; does he/she shut down at a certain point in the instruction? Could that indicate that you need to review and adjust the timing? Does your student need to take breaks and reset?
2. Should You Take More Math Breaks?
A lot of parents struggle with particular lessons, and may have taken a short break. After coming back to that lesson again, it all came together.
A lot of times we think we teach a child something and that they should just get it right then and there. Your brain collects all the data of what happens during the day, and when you sleep it sorts it out. Some stuff goes in the long-term memory and some things go into short-term memory. Sometimes we need to sleep on it to really have the light bulb go on.
Sometimes, if there are missing tools, it’s a good time to just pause. Take a break and do some evaluating. Maybe think of another way to approach maths instead of going through your workbook - we have math songs, free math games and activities, telling the time block clocks to build, and a variety of resources to help with maths - outside of the workbooks.
Pause and say, “Okay, what’s missing here? Why am I struggling to teach maths? Is there something new or different that we can do?”
Don't be afraid to take a break, get some fresh air and come back and approach it differently.
3. Are You a Confident Maths Teacher?
A lot of times the parent is worried that they aren’t skilled enough to teach math. I want to encourage you that you are the best math teacher for your student because you know your children the best.
Even though Steve Demme is teaching students in the Math-U-See lesson videos, the intended audience of the videos are the teachers. Steve wants to empower parents to teach math; it’s there to support you even if you’re not feeling confident. And as I mentioned, sometimes the video and the written lessons present information in slightly different ways, so it’s good to use both of them if you’re feeling less than confident with a concept.
4. Do You Think That Your Student is Behind?
The most frequent conversation I have is with parents who are worried that their students are 'behind'. Once we go through and establish a plan and strategy, the students often start thriving right away; that’s just music to my ears.
When we settle on a plan, we can then plan steps and how much time it will take, so that the students will have a solid math understanding by exam time and graduation. We’re more interested in the student being solid and concrete in their maths knowledge because we’re looking ahead to high school and beyond - to daily life and the practical application of numbers. We want your student to be set up for success in all situations.
If you've been struggling to teach maths and are concerned about your student being behind, talk to us. We can help you put together a strategy, identify tools, and help put your mind at ease.
If you'd like to figure out where your child is up to with their maths, you can also do our free online Placement Test. This will show you exactly where your student is at, and the gaps in their understanding that need to be filled:
Let us know where you're at.
You can contact one of our friendly staff if you have any questions or would like to discuss your student's math ability.
The Team at Maths Australia
- excerpt from Math-U-See