Thursday, July 14, 2011

Math Power--Part 2-- Elementary School

One point that she brings up several times in the book is that math can be hard. Even for mathematicians, it isn't easy to grapple with a problem (especially one where no known answer exists yet)... and there are moments of frustration. Just because you can solve a problem doesn't necessarily mean it is easy... and just because you have to struggle, doesn't mean you aren't smart or aren't good at math.

Here are some activities that Math Power suggests for elementary school age children...and a few of my own suggestions mixed in:

1. Blocks and puzzles continue to be great toys...including puzzle books, jigsaw puzzles, logic puzzles, and cubes or blocks that link together. Calculators are good tools for children to become familiar with and use.
2. She suggests using maps and creating math problems with them. Maps are great for measurement...and they relate geometry to arithmetic. You can also use time lines to create problems.
3. Children who play music usually do better in math. If you are inclined, you may have your child learn to play an instrument.
4. She mentions games that she feels are especially good at teaching math: rummy, parcheesi, checkers, battleship, and chess. I would add Monopoly Junior. In addition, with a deck of playing cards there are all kinds of games you can play. I will probably add another post with some ideas of games to play with a deck of cards.
5. Have your kids cook with you. This can give them real life practice with fractions as well as doubling (if you double the recipe) or dividing in half.
6. Turn your activity into a quick math problem. For example, if your family is going to the movie and it costs $6/person, have your child figure out what the total cost will be. Or if one bag of popcorn will feed 2 people and you have 4 people, how many bags do you need? If you're going to the store to buy just a few items, have your child estimate how much you are spending. Or group the items so that they are in groups that are about $10 each and have them count the number of groups to see how much you are spending. If you are at the pool, and it is 2:15 and you have to leave at 3, how much longer can you swim? Have them figure out change...if the movies cost $24 total, and I give the clerk $30, how much change will I get back? Or if the candy bar costs $0.54 and I give the clerk $1, how much change will I get back?
7. Give your child a ruler and have them measure things. I can attest (as she talks about in her book) that measurement is an area that most teachers don't spend enough time on and that many children struggle with (partly because it is confusing to switch back and forth from metric to customary with young children...but we are required to do just that.) Give your kids extra practice at home. Have them measure the room and furniture and come up with a plan to rearrange their bedroom or the living room. If you're buying an appliance have them measure the space it needs to fit in and measure the appliance to make sure it will fit (Good advice anyway!!)
8. Do some basic "algebra". Put some items in your hand and have your child count them. Put your hands behind your back and place some items in one hand and keep it hidden, then show the other hand with its items. How many items are behind your back? Simple algebra. (Same thing can be done by hiding some of the objects under a cup.)
9. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is help your child recognize patterns...number patters, shape patterns, etc. Math really is an understanding of patterns. Recognizing patterns of dots on dice, noticing patterns in geometric designs, noticing patterns on paper or clothing. Patterns are everywhere and this is such an important skill for mathematical understanding.
10. She has a whole section on fractions (five pages long.) Fractions need to be understood as a number of things...part of a set, part of a whole, as division, as probability, as a proportion. She gives some good activities... Cut pizzas/sandwiches/apples into different fractions and label them (in words) for your child. Use a spinner and spin it several times and then write your result as a fraction.
11. Create graphs together. When friends come over, ask them what their favorite drink or candy bar or whatever is...and then put it on a graph. As your children read during the summer, create a bar graph or picture graph to record the number of books read (or the number of days read). This summer, there was a little bit of arguing happening between my two oldest...enough that it was annoying me. So I created a "being kind" picture graph and they get to add a sticker when they are kind. It motivates them to be kind and get along, but we can also talk about how mnay stickers we have in all. How many more do we need to have 25? If Ella earns 6 more, how many will she have? etc. The graph itself is important but the discussions around it are even more important.
12. Have your child estimate. How many M&M's are in your bag? How many minutes until dinner will be ready? About how long is the table? About how much money are we spending at the store today? And so on.

Again, it's very important as the parent that you follow your child's cue. Make it fun..turn it into a game, and stop when they want to stop. Don't worry too much about wrong answers...you can correct them gently or again, ask them to explain their thinking and how they solved the problem. (Of course, if you homeschool, you will have to worry more about right answers and doing math even if they aren't in the mood...but even still try to make math fun as much as possible. Avoid overdrilling them on facts or computation. This is just a small part of math...and most kids will get the facts IF they really understand the concept which is far more important.) Encourage them to solve the problem in their own way. When we were kids, most of us were taught one right way to compute... but for most problems there are a number of correct ways to approach the problem. In fact, some of the algorithms we were taught are actually more difficult and lead to more errors. Encourage creative thinking...and encourage them to keep trying when math seems hard. A great insight might be just around the corner!

I did another post on how I think math teaching has changed since I was in elementary school... if you want to read it, go here to math mumblings.