How to Anticipate and Address the Most Common Challenges in Math Learning

Posted on November 22nd, 2019 6:49pm
By: paulteitelman

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Whether you want your child to become an engineer or simply want to make sure they can file their own taxes, ensuring they develop the arithmetical and numeracy skills they need to function in the modern world is essential.

Math undergirds just about everything we do, from calculating how much of a tip to leave a restaurant server to baking a cake or planning the monthly budget, but competency in math is not to be taken for granted: according to MacLean’s, math scores have been steadily falling across Canada, even as the amount of time students spend in math classes has risen.

It is common for children, especially in elementary school, to struggle with math. Many students find it to be counter-intuitive, too abstract, or just plain boring, and many teachers are struggling with inadequate resources and an out-dated curriculum.

So how can you make sure that your children get the support they need to master vital skills like multiplication, division, fractions, and basic equations?

In this post, we’ll talk about how parents can play an active role in helping their kids develop their numeracy skills by anticipating common problems in math learning and addressing them proactively. Understanding the challenges your little one is about to face is a key part of making sure they have the resources they need to overcome them.

While it isn’t your job to teach math, there are things you can do to help the information they are learning in the classroom stick: this can mean that you hire a private math tutor but it can also involve harnessing digital tools to make math learning more comprehensible and fun, and just providing good, old fashioned moral support when they’re struggling.    

Learning Fractions

Understanding fractions is just one of those things that most adults have understood for so long, they don’t even realize they had to learn it. But in fact, as many pedagogues have explained, fractions can be incredibly difficult for elementary students to learn.

But put yourself in the position of your child, who is just learning how the world works, and how the words we use to describe the world — like percent, integer, and fraction — relate to the concrete objects around them. How are they to understand that if you cut an orange in half, they have both half an orange, 0.5 of an orange, 50% of an orange, and ½ of an orange? And that if they cut that half in half, they have both half of a half of an orange, and also a quarter of an orange?

One of the joys of parenting is being confronted with the challenge of explaining all the things that you know and take for granted to your children. But in the case of something like fractions, which is an essential building block without which your kids will simply not be able to acquire new math skills, it can be a bit stressful.

That’s why it is important to take an active role in helping your kids learning fractions. Many of our Montreal math tutors have noticed that when parents make a point of engaging their kids about what they are learning in class at this crucial stage, students are more likely to learn and remember the material.

Fortunately, in the case of fractions, there are plenty of real-world applications you can use to help strengthen your child’s understanding.

For example, asking them to help you in the kitchen is a great way to teach the practical value of measurements, and to give them something concrete to think about when confronted with halves, quarters, and thirds. Or you can use coins and paper money to give them a chance to practice their math skills in a tactile way.   

Mastering Multiplication

At a time when just about everyone is walking around with a high powered computer in their pocket, do we really need to learn multiplication tables?

This is a question most twenty-first-century math teachers have gotten time and time again. It can be hard to convince elementary students (and even their parents) of the point in learning how to do multiplication on paper given that most smartphones have easy-to-use calculator apps.

But there are two key reasons why learning how to do multiplication (and division) problems in elementary school without the use of a calculator is an essential part of the math curriculum.

First, as our math tutors in Ottawa will tell you, long-form multiplication and division for a foundation for a lot of what will come later. While a calculator app may be able to help you figure out the square footage of a room, it won’t be nearly as handy when it comes time to do advanced equations. Giving students a thorough understanding of how simple problems work makes it a lot easier for them to master harder problems down the road.

In fact, some researchers have argued that one of the reasons U.S. schoolchildren are outperformed in math by other education systems around the world is that the American curriculum does not provide the kind of deep grounding in basic skills that students need to excel at more complex kinds of arithmetic.  

Second, it is never a good idea to rely too much on technology. If you can’t do basic addition, subtraction, or multiplication without whipping out your phone, you’re going to be at a huge disadvantage — especially once your battery dies!

For this reason, it is important to encourage your children to see the value in learning how to do the problems, rather than simply finding the solution. While getting the answer write on the test is the end goal, the only reason they’re being tested in the first place is to see whether they understand the process.

Making this kind of learning into a competitive game is one of the most effective ways of getting kids to learn. Drill them on their times tables while you’re driving around, and ask them to solve simple questions throughout the day (for example, if a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of butter, and you’re tripling the recipe, how much butter do you need?).

Normalizing math, and making it a part of everyday life, is one of the most important things you can do to help your kids take it seriously and apply themselves to learning.

Connecting Learning to Real Life

The single greatest challenge an elementary math teacher faces, however, is in resisting the temptation to make the curriculum an end in itself. Young children are curious about the world, and are often obsessed with finding patterns, and the most successful educators are the ones who can harness that raw interest into math learning.

But teachers can’t make these connections on their own, and one of the most important roles a parent can play is in modelling an interest in the value of math. The human brain is designed to take pleasure in solving problems, which is one of the reasons we like games so much. Instead of thinking about math as a chore, find ways to connect it to their real-life experiences.  

For example, finding something your child is already passionate about, and then drawing out the mathematical features, is a great way of helping your kids see that math touches everything. If they like to draw, you can find books and youtube videos to teach them about the importance of ratios, scaling, and angles. If they’re interested in sports, use the hockey rink, football field, or soccer pitch to show the importance of fractions.

These exercises won’t just make math more accessible, they will also emphasize its practical value — and perhaps more importantly, show them that a command of math can help them accomplish things in areas they already care about.

At Prep Academy Tutors, we have made it part of our mission to work with educators who are passionate about their subjects and who use modern pedagogical tools and methods to pass that passion on to their students.

If you are in Ontario, Quebec, or Alberta get in touch with us to find out more about our tutoring services — we even have math tutors in Calgary who can help your kids work with the local curriculum to engage elementary and secondary students in the joys and pleasures of math.

In an era of high technology, where new jobs are being created every year in engineering, programming, math, and science, equipping your children with the tools they need to master their math curriculum is one of the best ways to set them up for sustainable and rewarding careers.

Call Prep Academy Tutors today to find out how we can help your children develop a love of math.