5 Steps for a Winning Maths Learning Strategy – Part 1

Maths Learning

As children grow from being pre-schoolers to Primary school, and then High school , most parents start wondering about their comfort level with Maths.

Usually, most children do well in Maths in the initial years. As they move into higher classes, it becomes more challenging as the topics grow complex. Algebra 1, Geometry, fractional numbers etc. need conceptual understanding. The ability to represent the problem in structured mathematical terms becomes important.

Rote learning of Math facts or formulae may help to some extent. The best approach, as all Maths teachers would tell you is practice, and more practice.

But by now, the child sees Maths as a chore to be done and does not show much interest in practice.

So, how do we ensure Maths remains fun for our children, and they navigate the tricky waters of High School mathematics comfortably?

If your child is a pre-schooler or just entered Primary School, you can instil some habits in learning maths that would stand them in good stead later on. But even if your child is already in Grade 6 and above, it is possible to help them to master Maths, by following a few simple methods.

Before getting into the steps for a winning strategy to learn maths, we need to understand that not all children learn the same way. This is especially true for Mathematics.

There is a myth that children who can calculate quickly are good at Maths. However, studies have proved that some of the best Mathematical thinkers have been slow at doing the calculations. Not because they were less sharp at that time. It is because they intuitively take Maths seriously, and therefore ponder over each small step of the calculation carefully.

The other myth about learning Maths is that one requires a lot of memory power to do well at Maths because of the need to remember all the Maths facts or rules. Again, it is sheer practice that helps a person do well at solving complex problems, and also a certain ‘mind set’ for Maths. It is possible to inculcate this mind set for Maths at any stage in a person’s life, more so during early years.

In the next few blog posts under this series, we will look at different methods or steps by which learning Maths can be made easier. Let us start with basic arithmetic then.

Multiplication Tables and Number Sense

The world over, in many educational systems, children are expected to learn tables up to 12 by 12 by the age 9. The recently released US Common Core syllabus does not demand this level of fluency in multiplication tables. In fact, it almost goes in the opposite direction.

It is quite useful for the children later on if they learn the multiplication tables and practice writing them down and using them in problem solving. Traditional Indian education required children till the age of 10 to begin the day writing down all the multiplication tables.

Of late, the Abacus approach has become quite popular. Abacus does help children improve calculation speeds and mental math. However, Abacus has some disadvantages too. Apart from the size and weight of Abacus, the stress on memory power instead of creating a maths mindset. This might help in the initial years of schooling, but may cause a handicap when the student gets to higher classes.

It is therefore important to inculcate a ‘number sense’ in the children quite early. One way of doing this could be  by giving practice problems involving two digit multiplications and three digit multiplications. These could be straight multiplication or division problems or word problems describing a real world scenario.

When they are solving problems, get them into a discussion on easy ways to arrive at the answer for a particular multiplication or division. This is where number sense can be improved.

For example, your child is trying to do a problem involving 9 times 8. Tell her there are 2 ways to arrive at the answer. Either remember the 9 times table, or simply think of 10 times 8, and then minus 8.

Usually, children by themselves figure out that 6 times 8 equals 8 times 6. They also figure out that if they know 6 times 7 = 42, the 6 times 8 is simply 42+6=48. Make them also aware that an alternative option exists, which is to deduct from the closest number they already know.

Number sense works in many other ways as well.  Especially in problems where a longer calculation such as 24 * 200 can be broken down into the following steps:

  1. 25*200 = 5000
  2. 25-24=1
  3. So, deduct 200 from 5000 = 4800.

We are accomplishing two things here. Firstly, the child is cultivating a sense of numbers and how they work with each other. Secondly, the child is not afraid of big numbers because he/she knows they can be broken down into manageable steps.

The big question arises here – who is going to spend the time with the child to walk them through these exercises to help get a number sense and maths mind set?

We expect the teachers at school to accomplish this. But typically, each teacher has to manage 100+ students on average and even if a school has a good teacher-student ratio, it still becomes next to impossible to give the time that is required for each student based on their individual learning pace.

As parents, it would be in our interest then to spend at least a few hours each week with the children during their early schooling days, helping them understand numbers and other mathematical concepts at a fundamental level. Children can learn better if they feel they are not being judged. Parents can create such learning atmosphere quite easily at home.

Like all the activities that parents (should) do with children, learning Maths can also be an activity to be enjoyed!

In the next post, we will look at a learning strategy for  Algebra, Geometry and other High School level Mathematics topics.

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