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Posted on Tue. Nov. 13, 2012 - 12:08 am EDT

Help adds up

Tools, parents give students boost in learning math skills

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Resources offers instructional videos, interactive challenges and assessments. offers free resources for math and literacy, as well as games for students.

•Search for craft and activity ideas to improve fluency.

•“Bringing Math Home: A Parent’s Guide to Elementary School Math: Games, Activities, Projects,” by Suzanne Churchman, features projects, games and activities children and parents can do together to increase their understanding of basic math concepts.

Trevor ate two apples. Dad ate five apples. Mom bought 10 oranges at the store. How much did she spend?

Math might be challenging for an elementary school student, but it can be just as daunting for a parent tasked with helping with homework.

“Content is being pushed on kids earlier and earlier,” says Adam Normand, math curriculum coordinator at Fort Wayne Community Schools. “It is a lot different than (when parents) went to school and different than the way we learned because the expectations have been raised nationally.”

Children can come home with work that includes new ideas, such as the lattice method for multiplication, where there might not be enough explanation and it can be hard to help, says Willa Kline, executive director of Educational Opportunities Center.

Kline encourages parents to talk to the teacher about a specific situation, and Normand says that textbooks are available online via a teacher’s classroom website. But the best thing a parent can do, Normand and Kline say, is to focus on arithmetic.

“One of the things that students struggle with is that they don’t have enough time to practice their math facts,” he says.

Math facts are math questions that a student should just know; 2 + 2 = 4, 9 - 3 = 6. These “basics” help students build a math understanding and are the building blocks of math, helping them move onto more difficult concepts.

Children learn math in a progression – from a concrete, visual way to a more abstract way. For parents, Normand says, “it’s critical … not to just give (children) numbers and symbols but to give them anything.”

“Be creative with what you already have,” he adds. “You don’t need these colorful cubes or plastic bears to learn how to count.”

Rocks, coins and toys are all examples of “manipulatives,” educational jargon for things kids can play with to understand a concept, that can be used to help a child add and subtract. Children move the objects around and see the answer. Games, such as bingo, and songs can help reinforce math facts. Rulers and tape measures are good for the measurement piece.

Kline suggests trying a variety of things to “help them focus on facts and use them. The more they see it in different ways, then hopefully something clicks.”

At the Educational Opportunities Center, which offers after-school tutoring for grades 2 through 12, students work on homework and then translate the concepts into a project. Recently, students watched weather forecasts and compared data to rate area meteorologists.

For something less involved, parents can use a trip to the grocery store as an opportunity to work on mental math. Children can add prices, count change. Kline says that even in an everyday setting, such as driving to school, there is an opportunity to practice math facts.

“How many blocks have we gone? We’ve gone this many more blocks. How many blocks have we driven total?” she models.

Normand says parents should encourage children to use mental math when completing problems like these. Using fingers is OK, but the student needs to move beyond visuals and master facts.

“Reinforcing multiplication, division, addition and subtraction can be a huge chunk of what parents do to support the children’s success in the classroom,” Normand says. “If they don’t get that, they will struggle in the classroom. Some students don’t have that fluency solidified early enough and struggle with their mathematic career.”


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