Learning Math: Why Kids Get Frustrated and What Parents Can Do

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When it comes to learning math, some students do just fine. Others, unfortunately, seem to hit all the snags and pitfalls while trying to learn.

Why is learning math frustrating for so many? Even those who are bright and hardworking have difficulty. Elementary school and high school require math and most college degrees require math too. College classes get bottlenecked with students who are taking the same math class for the second or third time. I’ve often heard, “I just have to pass this math class or I won’t graduate!”

As an educator, I have hypothesized why this occurs and it doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence.

When learning math, a student must engage their full attention to the instruction. All it takes is for a student to daydream for a just few minutes and the whole week’s key points can be lost to the learner.

Learning math is a sequential process. Learners need to be firm with all the steps that lead up to the final answer and they need to be provided adequate time to process and practice just-taught information before a new concept is introduced. For some students, information presented in math books needs to be broken down into sub-steps that are not found in the textbooks–information that would need to be fine-tuned by the instructor. Unfortunately, because of classroom limits, there just isn’t enough time to teach at every student’s skill level or to break down math information for those who need it most.

A typical classroom of math students rarely starts on an even academic playing field. The differences and needs can be vast. Because of the abstract nature of mathematics, some students require multi-sensory techniques and extra drill and practice in order to catch on. There simply is not enough time to do this in most classes and if parents are unavailable or don’t understand math themselves, the students suffer. It is hard for teachers to meet the needs of all math students, even with their earnest efforts and best intentions. Because of this, many math students never realize their full potential.

While working with students, I have found that the most glaring deficit in math understanding is a skill called “number sense” or the ability to have a feel for mathematical amounts. Students who have developed number sense do much better in math. Weak math students often produce answers that are not even close to being correct. They won’t think to challenge whether their answer is logical–an indication they lack number sense.

Good news! Even though academic frustration seems rampant, math frustration can be minimized with the help of adults playing math games or activities at home. Math games can be fun and are motivating. They develop number sense and actually get kids to want to be involved. There are no class grades tied to the outcome. These activities do not need to be purchased and here’s more good news–no tricky math understanding is needed for the adult. Any type of math game holds value and don’t let the word “game” make you think that a math game is not academically worthy.

Here are some ideas. Some can be played alone.

  • Grab a handful of anything–jellybeans, marbles, paper clips, or pennies–anything that can produce “a bunch of.” Have the child guess and write down the estimate, then count to confirm. Hands-on counting is a wonderful activity for students that need tactile validation.
  • Find another handful of anything, estimate the amount, and then grab another handful of the same amount. Do the different handfuls hold the same amount?
  • How many cereal Os does the child eat each morning?
  • What is the value of a handful of pennies, nickels, dimes, or mixed coins?
  • Fill three different sized cups with the same item. Estimate and write down how many is in one of them, count, then estimate how many are in the others.
  • Look quickly in a drawer, close the drawer and then estimate how many items are in it.
  • Estimate amounts in a see-through container. Guess the amount, write it on paper, count to confirm.
  • Estimate the weight of a backpack.
  • How much time would it take to reach a certain destination?
  • Place three pennies on the counter. How many more are needed to make ten pennies? Repeat using different amounts that will equal ten. Put twelve cents on a counter. How much more will make fifty cents?
  • How long would it take to earn a certain amount of money?
  • How long would it take to earn $1,000 if you earned $5 a day walking the dog?
  • How long would it take to spend a million dollars, spending a specific amount each day?
  • How many inches would a 100-foot building be?
  • Estimate weights of objects, then step on a scale. Fill a bag with items, or a suitcase, estimate the weight.
  • Arrange objects heaviest to lightest.
  • For older students, determine how many miles they can travel by car for 6 or 8 hours by traveling 55, then 65 miles per hour.
  • Finally, discuss the child’s strategies used for their estimating.

Games such as these increase a students’ number sense and math confidence, and allows them to transfer their learned information into the classroom. Instead of just guessing the answer and hoping to be lucky, students will better know when their answer seems logical or have enough mathematical sense and confidence to keep on working.

By Maureen Stearns, an author, parent, and educator who has been teaching struggling learners for over 20 years. She holds both Exceptional Student Education and Community Psychology Degrees. She recently wrote Multiply and Divide with Sticks and Steps®: Teach this Easy Method in Just 5 Minutes. www.sticksandsteps.com or www.ksblinks.com

 

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  1. 2nd Annual Lighthouse Point Festival

    September 23 @ 12:00 pm - 6:00 pm
    September 23, 2017  |  12:00 pm - 6:00 pm
    National Lighthouse Museum
  2. Autumn Moon Festival

    September 23 @ 12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
    September 23, 2017  |  12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
    Snug Harbor Cultural Center
    Enjoy traditional Asian music and dance, storytelling, tours, demonstrations of martial arts and Tai Chi, food, lessons in Chinese calligraphy, and more at the annual Autumn Moon Festival. The Autumn Moon Festival spotlights Snug Harbor’s NY Chinese Scholar’s Garden and
  3. Edible Plants Hike

    September 23 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
    September 23, 2017  |  1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
    Clay Pit Ponds
    What could you eat to survive if you were lost in the forest? Identify edible plants and their ethnobotanical uses.
  4. Intro to Tai Chi

    September 23 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
    September 23, 2017  |  2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
    Staten Island Museum
    Improve balance (literally and figuratively), get exercise, improve mindfulness, and gain energy. Join us every other Saturday to learn the full form of Tai Chi movements. Walk-ins welcome.
  5. Cinema Saturdays

    September 23 @ 3:00 pm
    September 23, 2017  |  3:00 pm - 3:00 pm
    Stapleton Library
    Watch the library become a movie theater and enjoy a film on the big screen!
  6. Knitting Social

    September 23 @ 3:00 pm
    September 23, 2017  |  3:00 pm - 3:00 pm
    South Beach Library
  7. Movies Under the Stars: Thor: Dark World

    September 23 @ 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm
    September 23, 2017  |  7:00 pm - 10:00 pm
    Clove Lakes Park
    Join NYC Parks and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment for a free film. Know Before You Go: You should arrive before 7:00 p.m. to get your spot. Feel free to bring a blanket to sit
  8. An Irish-Italian Wedding of Song and Dance

    September 23 @ 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
    September 23, 2017  |  7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
    Noble Maritime Collection
    Concert of everything from opera to Irish step dancing. Admission $15 in advance, $20 at the door, children under 10 free Spend an evening enjoying the music and dance of traditional Irish and Italian weddings minus the bride and groom!
  9. Stargazing in Great Kills

    September 23 @ 8:30 pm - 11:00 pm
    September 23, 2017  |  8:30 pm - 11:00 pm
    Great Kills Park
    Go stargazing with the S.I. Amateur Astronomer’s Association. Inclement weather will cancel this program.
  10. NYRR Open Run

    September 24 @ 9:00 am - 10:00 am
    September 24, 2017  |  9:00 am - 10:00 am
    The Conference House
    Participants are encouraged to arrive 15 minutes before the start of the run and to leave their valuables at home – bag check is not provided. No need to do anything before the run, just show up. Open to all