Dear 4th Grade Families

Recently a student (newton public school) brought in a letter from his 4th Grade math teacher. It’s a reminder again of how math is so cummulative, how important it is to cover the basics during the Elementary School years.
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Math Web Sites – A handy one-page printable conversion chart for various measures- US vs. metric measures. Also has a comparative Fahrenheit vs. Celsius thermometer.
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(Math) formulas for babies

By Dr. Arvind Gupta, Canwest News Service Published: Friday, March 27, 2009

Babies or toddlers explore the mathematics inherent in the world around them, and parents can help them in this exploration, in easy ways like having them help sort socks or set the table.

You may be surprised to learn it’s never too early to Read more

Confidence in Math Leads to Confidence in School

I feel best about having helped others believe in themselves.
–Bud Sherman

One of the most rewarding aspect of being a Math tutor is giving kids confidence in Math.  Suddenly they realize you don’t need to be a genius in Math, they just need to Read more

Wired for Math or not? Part 1

When a parent sees her child struggling, and struggling, the parent may start to wonder, “Maybe my child is just not wired for Math.”  I get asked this question a lot: “Are some kids just wired for math and some not?”
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ISEE Exam – What is it?

ISEE stands for : Independent School Entrance Exam. It is designed to test a student’s learning ability and also to knowledge in the subject area. Many private schools seeking to screen prospective students use the ISEE.
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Why Some Kids Hate Math

Does your child hate Math?

I remember an exercise during my training to be a math educator: I was given 3 sticks to make a triangle. Piece of cake. I was then given 2 more sticks to make a 2nd triangle. No problem. Read more

Counting with Fingers – Is it Bad?

Is it bad to rely on your fingers to count ? Here’s the short answer: counting on your fingers is helpful for a 4 year old child, but spells trouble for a child beyond first grade ..

Here’s why.

Reason #1: It Drags You Down

By the time you are in Middle School, math teachers expect you to know addition, subtraction backward and forward at a clip. When a teacher is explaining algebra on the board, she expects to teach the concept, not slow down for the addition and subtraction in the process. A student who gets dragged down in the process will start falling behind. That’s why 3rd and 4th graders get speed trials, to prepare for the middle school math blackboard.

Reason #2: It can discourage mental math development

What is 8 + 9 ? Students who see math in their head, may add it this way: 8 + 10 – 1, or this way: 8 double + 1. These students have chucked finger counting for mental math. As they work out their mental math muscles, they get even better and better at it. He has upgraded a child’s tool for a more sophisticated and powerful tool. Here’s a favorite mental math challenge our center gives to a student? What’s 99 + 99 + 99? If you need a piece of paper and pencil, you’re on the wrong track.

Reason #3: How sure is the student of the answer?

Let’s come back to 8 + 9 again. When a student sees it as 8 + 10 = 18, then minus 1 equals 17, he’s 100% sure it’s right. Next time you see a student counting on her fingers, ask her how sure she is that it’s the right answer? Our observation: he’s not very sure. Counting fingers involves concentration, not skipping by accident, remembering where to start and where to end … It takes skill.

Reason #4: It could get embarrassing

We had a 5th grader start at our center who was still counting with her fingers. But you couldn’t tell because she had developed sophisticated ways to disguise her finger counting. She would spread her fingers out on the table and look at them and count in her head. She could visualize her toes on the desk as clearly as if she was looking right at them. Her lips would not move, but her head would be nodding in rhythm to her counting. Why go through all that disguise? She was embarrassed. Happy to say we prescribed the “Cure to Finger Counting” and in just a few weeks she was adding 15 + 16, half of 48, 7 * 99 mentally in her head.

Is finger counting to be avoided at all cost? Like everything else, it’s not the tool itself, it’s how you use it. When you ask a 4 year old, “Sweetie, how old will you be in 3 years?”, and her fingers pop up, she’s getting into math, she’s thinking math is an everyday affair. When a fifth grader is totaling up 6 baskets of 13 pastries and uses 6 fingers as a memory tool to count up by 13, that’s smart. I still use my fingers to figure out the day of the week I need to return my DVD. Just don’t let it be a crutch, at the expense of the student’s math development.

Reading and Mathing with your kids

Educated parents that we are, we start reading to our kids from when they were infants. (Know moms who start reading to the baby in the womb?) We’ve been told that children who read early and read well usually grow up in homes that read. So, we do a great job reading to them.

Are you doing as great a job mathing with them? It’s not different from reading. Remember how you’d read street signs, cereal boxes, leave short notes in their lunch packs – anything that’s readable, you’ll make it part of their everyday? Mathing with your kids is no different. In fact, it’s quicker and easier.

For parents who are new to this idea, I like to start them with the concept of the math minute.

The Math Minute

What does the math minute suggest?

  1. Brevity. Just one-minute interjections in your busy day.
  2. Anyplace, anytime, any reason. It’s just one minute, so it doesn’t need scheduling.
  3. Quick mental math questions. No brain-teasers or brain-stressing problem solving here. Just quick mental math questions. That means no paper or pencil . In my house it would take 5 minutes just to find the paper and pencil.
  4. No new concept. Math minutes are not for teaching new topics. They are for enforcing math skills that a child is already introduced to.

Here’s the most important part about mathing with your kids. Let the child initiate it. We are not interested in learning anything that we don’t have a need to know. But when we need the information, have you noticed we are a lot more motivated? Take advantage of that when you math with your kids.

For example, driving to the ski slopes this morning, my 9 year old daughter asked me how long the trip would take. Let them math it out:

  • Kayla, the GPS says 41 minutes. So what time will we get there?”
  • If you guys don’t scream so much at the back, and I concentrate better, I might be able to shave off 3 minutes. Will we get there before your cousins?
  • We left 15 minutes before your cousins but their house is closer. Do you think we’ll get there first?” (prompts her to think what other information she needs to solve this problem).

Later, at the slopes, my 6th grader son remarked that the snowtubing ticket wasn’t cheap ($22). So I answered,

  • My goal is to snow tube enough times to make it work out to $2 or less per ride. Do you think I can do it?” (After he figured out that’s 11 rides down, he said it sounded doable).

Ordered a pizza lately? That’s a great opportunity for mathing with your kids.

  • Sweetie, would you rather have one eight of the pizza or one sixth? Why?
  • I’ll cut it in quarters first. Then I’ll cut split each quarter into two. WIll I have enough for everyone, you think?”
  • That reminds me, your birthday party, let’s say each of your guest has 2 slices, how many pizzas should I order for your party, sweetheart?”

Just as for reading, when you choose books around their interest, when you math with them, take advantage of their questions and interests. When a child gets into the habit of verbalizing, visualizing and thinking about math on his feet, it will develop his number sense and smooths the ride through middle and high school math.

Math Worksheets – Ineffective ways to use them

Are there ineffective ways of using Math Worksheets.

Do you use math workbooks or worksheets to supplement your child’s math learning at home? Math worksheets are essential to develop math skills. They can take a student from learning to mastery, from slow thoughtful application to speedy execution, turn new math muscles into solid math skills – IF employed effectively.

Math worksheets and work books can be purchased online, and retail stores like Walmart and Costco. That’s the easiest part. I’ve seen many well-meaning parents invest in the time and money to purchase these math workbooks then wonder why the idea stalled or abort within a few pages into the workbooks. There are millions of unused or unfinished math workbooks collecting dust in our homes. Why does that happen?

These are the mistakes to avoid when using math workbooks with your children:

Mistake #1. Not finding out your child’s math level before you purchase the math workbook or worksheets. Don’t simply go by the grade number on the workbook. These workbooks are sold nationwide and you know that the range of math curriculum and competency expectations vary widely from state to state. Instead: Have a math conversation with your child. If need be, talk to teachers, parents to have a good understanding what math topics the student should have. Then with a combination of oral and written questions, assess what the child knows and what the gaps are with respect to what’s expected of him. For example, if you have a 4th grader who is ahead, getting him a 4th Grade workbook, and repeating topics he already knows (in fact, he wishes his math teacher would go faster) is not only boring and a waste of time for the child, it will douse his interest and excitement about math. on the other hand, a 4th grader who’s been struggling for a few months, may need a 3rd grade workbook to catch up on the gaps and boost his number sense.

Mistake #2: Going through the workbook sequentially page by page. The goal of assessing the student is not to find a starting point, but to find gaps. Here’s the difference. 2 students may be at the same math competency level in terms of his grade, but if you probe deeper, you will find that one child could use more practice on fractions, another child didn’t get Percent. When you think “gaps” instead of “starting point”, it’s very clear that going through a workbook page by page sequentially is not as effective as jumping around, focusing, on topics that will address the student’s weak areas, and spending much less time on topics that the student already mastered.

Mistake #3: Expecting the worksheets to do all the instruction. Some worksheets are intended to develop a student’s mastery and speed. But some of the worksheets may be new concepts, or a new way of looking at something that didn’t click with the child the way it was explained in the classroom. It’s a mistake to expect the worksheets to do 100% of the instruction. Expect to spend time with your child explaining, clarifying, giving examples, and correcting erroneous thinking/understanding.

Mistake #4: Not validating to see if the effort’s making a difference. It’s easy to gain a false sense of assurance that if the student’s putting in the time, then he must be improving. Instead, validate the results. Talk to his math teacher, study his quizzes, why he responds the way he does, how’s his MCAS? Have math conversations with him to, math is verbal and visual, it’s not just paper and pencil. What are you looking for? You’re looking for grade improvement as well as his attitude and confidence in math. There’s no validation like a child saying, “Hey, Mom, math just seems to make so much more sense now. ”

Mistake #5: Not realizing the importance of Fun, Encouragement, Consistency in the whole process. We know consistency produces results. If you want consistent effort from your child, the experience must be fun, and encouraging to him. Scolding, threats, witholding privileges, timing out a child until he finishes his worksheet creates a stressful and conflict-ridden environment that is not sustainable. In fact, this is often the #1 reason parents bring their children to our Math Learning center. Aside our center being a fun, kid-friendly environment, we don’t have the parent-child tension that gets in the way of nurturing the child’s love for math.

Math worksheets and math workbooks are just tools. The way they are implemented is often more important than the worksheets themselves. Don’t make any of the 5 mistakes above, and your child will be making good progress boosting her math skills.