Friday, March 18, 2011

Find the Right Math Method

I read a great article from Almost Unschoolers on using art to teach the concepts of Greater Than and Less Than. She has some very creative ideas for alternate learning methods.

What struck me as I read this is that it is so important that we find a method that reaches each child. For instance, I did learn with the method she wrote about and sadly, it did not work for me. For some reason I could never understand the concept that the open-ended symbol was supposed to eat the larger numbers. I have no idea why the memory trick did not work, but for years I would look at a problem written correctly, memorize it before a test and that is how I got by. The concept of eating numbers was a huge distraction. My brain would panic trying to remember if it ate larger or smaller numbers and then I was lost. I obviously understood that 3 was smaller than 4. However the symbols < or > eluded me unless I focused on memorizing the order, 3<4 or 4>3.

Many years later, I took a graduate course in teaching math to children and the professor discussed ways to reach different learners. This topic came up and several people pointed out that the arrow pointed to the smaller number. I was stunned. That visual concept had never occurred to me. I suspect my teachers had never noticed or they might have mentioned it. I have not had trouble remembering since then. When I taught this lesson to my students, we discussed ways to remember the symbols. Some went with the eating the larger number memory cue. Others chose the arrow pointing at the smaller number. They discussed different stories that helped them remember.

My point in mentioning this is that it is so important to help your child find his/her path to understanding math. In this case, it does not really matter if how they remember the symbols merely that they can use them correctly and identify when others have presented them correctly. It is important if one memory cue does not work to find one that does work. Do not make them wait until graduate school.


  1. Okay, graduate school for you, and undergrad for me. My second grade teacher lost me mid-term with long division, and I never recovered. Struggled with higher math from the 8th grade on. Fortunately, after starting with basic math courses in college, I was able to work my way up to Pre-Calculus. It's still difficult, though. I'm a creative, and my mind doesn't process math data easily.

  2. What is frustrating is we know SO much more about how kids learn math differently now than ever before and yet we still keep trying to find the "perfect" program that will suit all children. Kids need different approaches. When we respect that we can find ways to teach the material so most kids will eventually find a way to learn it and not end up math phobic.