TRT Podcast#11: How to support math learning at home
How do you help your kids with their math homework when it’s different from the way you learned it?
What math games (that you may already have in your house) build math skills?
What are simple ways to build math skills in everyday life?
And what’s a fun, free online tool that you and your kids will fall in love with?
Listen and find out!
Full episode transcript
You are listening to episode 11, Simple ways to support math learning at home. Welcome back to Triple R Teaching. Most weeks I share tips and resources for classroom teachers and full-time homeschoolers. But for the last few weeks I've made a little bit of a pivot, and I've created episodes aimed at you, the instant homeschooler. It's true, we're not typical homeschoolers. For most of us, our children's teachers are providing work, whether that's via Google Classroom or email, Zoom calls or printable packs. So we're not completely alone. And yet as we're alone in our homes, self isolating, it can feel like we're alone. So today I want to come to you and support you and give you some practical things that you can do to support your child's math learning. These are things you can do right now while we're suffering through this global pandemic and in the future when it has passed us, okay?
The number one thing you can do is, try to let go of the stress surrounding your child's math homework. And if you hear that and say, I don't have any stress around my child's math homework, he or she is in first or second grade, it's easy, then don't worry about this tip. However, for many of us, even if our children are in early elementary school, some of their math work can feel confusing or frustrating. That's because many of our children's teachers are approaching it in a different way than our teachers taught us. And when that happens, we tend to get frustrated. We might think, why are they making this so hard? There's a very simple way to do this, just cross out the number, carry the one, why are they making this so complicated? I just want to say, I don't think the idea behind it is as complicated as we might think that it is.
Let me explain what's going on here. Back when we learned math, or at least when I did and probably many of you, it was very procedural. So you learned the steps to solve all the problems. I knew that when I was subtracting, if the number below the first number was bigger, then I had to move next door, cross out that number, make it one smaller, add a one to the number I was working with and then subtract. And I was very good at it and I did very well in math for many years. I did not, however, understand exactly why I was doing those steps - both in that example and many other examples of math where I learned the steps to solve the problem. The challenge came as I got older and math got more complicated; now it really was important for me to understand what was going on behind those numbers.
But I didn't really understand because I didn't understand way back in second grade. So eventually I was very happy to be done with my math learning. Staying after school every day to get help from my math teachers so I could pull out another A had gotten old, and I had no interest in a career in math or any kind of advanced math. I just went as far as I needed to go. This is not true for everyone. My husband, for example, is good at many, many things, basically good at everything, and he learned math the same way I did (he's older than I am). But he had a math mind and understood what was going on with those numbers even though he was learning it in a very procedural way. That's true for some people. But I would say for many, if not most people, we really need that direct instruction to help us think more conceptually about numbers.
I did not get that. Maybe you did not get that. Many of our children are getting that, and that's a good thing.
But as a parent, it can be a little frustrating if we don't understand where their child's teacher is coming from. It's also true that teaching this way is new to a lot of today's teachers and it's possible they may not be approaching it in the best way because they are learning too. So patience is required from all of us. If you are working with your child and you don't understand what they're doing with these 10 frames or number lines or anything that seems different than the way you learned math, try to take the role of a student. I'm going to give you some tips now from Christina Tonevold. I am part of her Build Math Minds membership for teachers and she, like me, is a parent and a former classroom teacher who used to be extremely traditional in the way she taught math.
She calls herself The Recovering Traditionalist because now she understands that teaching math needs to be more conceptual, more discussion-based, more big picture and not just little rules that we don't understand. So she certainly teaches those rules, but she also teaches it within this bigger context of understanding the math. And this is what she had to say in one of her recent podcast episodes. She said, "If you're doing math work with your child and they're learning something different than the way you learned it and you're confused... Instead of saying, 'What on earth, this isn't the way they taught me math! Why did they make it so hard?' you could say something like this. 'Tell me why you did that. Explain to me what this 10 frame is for. Show me how you use this number line.' So instead of trying to explain it yourself, see what they know. They just might teach you something."
Here's a quote from Kate Snow who was doing a podcast episode with Christina. This is what she had to say. "I just encourage parents to be kind of an explorer of math, you don't have to be the expert, you can just be exploring math with your child, making sense of it with your child if it doesn't make sense to you right now."
I get it. It can feel a little uncomfortable if you're not supposed to understand everything all at once. But that's the exciting thing about math. We keep learning new things every day.
Now that may not feel very practical in the moment ... such as if you are doing a math worksheet or activity with your child, they're confused and you're confused because it's not the way you learned it. You're going to need to get some help, right? So I recommend emailing the child's teacher in a calm way.
I know for me personally, when I don't understand something, I can get very frustrated very quickly. I might be tempted to fire off an email that says, "Mrs. Smith, I don't understand the math we're doing. This is not the way I learned it. Why does this have to be so complicated? What exactly are we doing on page 422?" Instead, take a deep breath, wait until you're calm, and send an email that starts with something positive. Like, "Hi Mrs. Smith. Thank you so much for all you're doing to help our kids during this distance learning. I know this is a huge learning curve for you and you're doing a great job. I just have a question about math on page 455. It looks like we're doing some kind of subtraction with regrouping, but they're doing it differently than the way that I learned it. Could you explain to me exactly how you're teaching it so I can help my child do this better? Thank you so much."
So be positive. Remember, your child's teacher is going through a lot right now. Teaching from a distance is not easy. Just come to this from a perspective of learning just as your child is learning. Hopefully you can figure this out with your child's help. If you can't, don't worry. Send a friendly patient email to your child's teacher and you'll get this figured out. If you're still confused, go ahead and go to my website, and drop me an email. I can probably send you a link that will help you understand the new approach to this type of math. That's tip number one.
Tip number two, play math games. This is easy. Just pull out some games you have at home that support math learning. If you don't have any and you're willing to go ahead and order a few on Amazon to get you through these many weeks, perhaps months of being stuck at home, I want to tell you some of our favorites. There are so many out there, but I want to share the ones I have personal experience with.
The first one is Mancala; this is a game using little glass gems, although honestly you could make it yourself and use pennies. If you look it up online, you could probably figure it out. But it's a great game for kids of all ages. So my kindergartner loves it, but you can certainly play it with your eighth grader or even another adult because it kind of grows with you. You can use different strategies depending on your age, so that's a really great game. Check out Mancala.
Also, I recommend Double Shutter. This is a great game for addition and this is one also that my kindergartner likes to use now, but my older kids also can certainly use it.
You can try Monopoly. We all know Monopoly -- but oh, that eternal monopoly kind of drives me crazy. I have a little boy who's in second grade who loves monopoly. Thankfully, he has a lot of siblings who will play it with him. So I don't usually have to be the one, but there is so much math that goes on during Monopoly. So if your child enjoys that game and there's someone to play it with him or her, maybe not always you, that's a great option.
Yahtzee, that's a really good one. There are a lot of apps for playing Yahtzee that are free.
Another game that my kids are really enjoying is called Qwixx. Qwixx is one that my kids are obsessed with right now, so most nights my seventh grader, fifth grader and second grader are playing it together, and they're all loving it. And the cool thing is even though they're all different ages, last night they played and all three of them got the same score. So that's one of those games that grows with you as well. It's a really fun one. In the notes for this episode which come at themeasuredmom.com/episode11, I'm going to provide links to Amazon for all of these games. So if you're curious about where to get them or you can't remember them, head to the show notes, themeasuredmom.com/ episode 11.
Tip number three is to integrate math into everyday life. And all this means is to just look for those opportunities and take them, if you have the time and patience. I would say during the school year when we are constantly running around picking up kids, driving to practices, etc. it's hard for me to slow down and take these math moments. But things are different right now. We are stuck at home, and like it or not, we have more time. At least I do. If you are working from home frantically trying to get your work done while also monitoring your children's homework, I totally understand. That may be a different story.
But if there are moments when you're having a slower pace at your home, consider integrating math learning. And this is so simple; this is not something you have to plan for in advance. It just means being alert and ready to take advantage of those opportunities. So for example, we have this snack mix my kids like and it comes in a small box and is rather expensive. I only want them to have a small bit of it. So I tell them, you only get half a cup of the snack mix once a day. Well, my kindergartner says, "Mom, can you help me get the right amount of snack mix?" I can open the drawer of measuring cups and say, "Let's find the cup that is half a cup. How does this compare to this whole cup? How many half cups do you think would go in this whole cup?"
That took like 30 seconds, right? And it's still teaching her something about math. If you put something on the table and you're eating frozen chicken nuggets, you could say, "Hey kids, we've got 20 chicken nuggets here and six people in our family. How many chicken nuggets could each person get and how many will be leftover?" And then here's the golden question. After you ask your child to do some kind of math ask, "How did you figure that out?" Or "how do you know?" This is really important; it helps them think about the math that they're doing and explain it to you. And the cool thing is if you have more than one child, they very likely may solve it in different ways. So hearing each other share their solutions also builds math understanding.
One more example. Your child says, "Mom, can I use the iPad?" And you might say, "You may use it for just 15 minutes and then I want you to go outside." And then you could look at an analog clock and say, "Look at that clock, and tell me what time will it be when you're done with your 15 minutes of iPad time?" If they can't figure it out, you help them. If they figure it out, you say, "Okay, how did you figure that out?" So as you can see, integrating math into everyday life is not hard; you just have to watch for the opportunities and you'll get better and better at this with time. Don't feel pressure to do this every day. If you do this several times a week, that's a win.
Tip number four, try something new. In today's show notes, I'm going to send you to Steve Wyborney's website. He's got some very simple fun PowerPoint presentations that are free. All you have to do is download them, open them up on your computer, and they are these really cool mental math type activities that challenge your children to think about math in different ways. And you're going to first go to it and you're going to think to yourself, really, is this what she was sending me to? There are so many great math apps out there with lots of colors and sounds, why would I use this? Because it looks extremely basic and simple, but you will be surprised at how fun and challenging these activities can be. There are different things they do. One of them is called Splat, where your child sees dots on a screen and splats covering other dots. They have to figure out how many dots are under the splats to give the total number that's on the screen.
These are great ways to promote math learning at home and to promote math discussion. So do one of these a day, have all your kids look at them and then work together to solve them. I'll bet that you're going to like them a lot and your kids are going to want to do more than one. So there are a lot of different things that he offers, but like I said, these are free and I will link to them in the show notes.
So I hope that I delivered with some simple ways to support math learning at home. Let's quickly review what they were. Number one was try to let go of the stress surrounding your child's math work, even if it's different from what you learned. Be more of a learner and explorer of math. And if you're still puzzled, send a friendly email to your child's teacher. Tip number two was to play math games. I gave you some suggestions for those, and those will be linked in the show notes. Number three, integrate math into everyday life, and that just means look for opportunities to challenge your child to think about math. Remember to always ask that question, "How did you figure that out?" And then tip number four, try something new. I'm recommending Steve Wyborney's PowerPoint presentations. They are free and they're fun ways to explore math concepts with your child. So go ahead and find the show notes themeasuredmom.com/episode11. Thank you so much for listening, and I will talk to you again soon.
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Our family’s favorite games that promote math learning
Links & Resources mentioned in this episode
- Build Math Minds podcast with Christina Tonevold and guest Kate Snow
- Steve Wyborney’s free math strategies and downloads
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