25 Tips for Math Success
By Donna Rees and Deborah Wuehler
Below are some insights we’ve gained over the years about teaching math. Many of these are based on personal experience during many years of homeschooling, but we’ve also learned a great deal by observing other outstanding homeschooling families who have applied wise, effective strategies in their homeschools.
As homeschoolers, one of the challenges we face is that of figuring out a way to teach many different subjects at many different levels—at the same time. We encourage you to recognize and take advantage of the benefits of your “one-room school” as you teach math, from first-graders through high schoolers. We pray that the Lord will continue to bless you with wisdom and joy as you serve Him by instructing your children in the ways of the Lord and preparing them academically for future success.
1. Build a strong math foundation with each student—no shortcuts. It will pay off in the long run.
2. From the beginning, try to make math a fun subject. Even if your child is not an “active” child, incorporate “active” teaching methods as much as possible, so that your young child will associate “fun” with “math.” For example, in our Spring 2010 issue, Carol Barnier offered a fabulous list of ideas for teaching “the fidgety child.” Use those ideas to teach math in your homeschool, even if your child tends to be a “book learner” type of student.
When you use games and activities to learn and review math, the entire family can participate! TOS’s Schoolhouse Store (theoldschoolhouse.com/shop-2) offers a wide variety of outstanding resources, including several excellent math games.
3. Make simple, inexpensive manipulatives and use them often: flash cards, cardboard clocks, fraction strips, measurement manipulatives, etc. Construct them with sturdy materials so that you can use them over and over. Beans, candy, toothpicks, and money make excellent manipulatives too!
4. Regularly assign “math review” responsibilities to your older children, providing them with the tools and specific instructions necessary for them to drill your younger students effectively. This not only will benefit both of them with a review of the basics, but it also will build camaraderie—if you take time to establish the older student’s authority and equip him with the tools he needs to do the job well.
5. A favorite of homeschoolers is CalcuLadder (www.calculadder.com) math drills, which offer daily timed drills. Children must finish the page within the time limit before moving to another page. This reinforces the basics and creates memory recall on a daily basis.
6. Read lots of reviews about lots of curricula. The Old Schoolhouse’s Homeschool Crew has worked diligently to provide you with a variety of reviews about excellent homeschool resources that have actually been used by families like yours. Read their reviews here: www.HomeschoolBlogger.com/HomeschoolCrew. Reviews from moms like you can also be found on our website at theoldschoolhouse.com/Homeschool_Reviews/Mathematics_products.php.
7. Talk to fellow homeschoolers who have successfully taught math to their families. What tips can they give you? Experience is the best teacher—about what works and what doesn’t.
8. Initiate simple “math drills” (remember doing Bible drills when you went to VBS long ago?) with a small group of children who are on the same math level as your child/children. With other nearby homeschooling families, coordinate the study or review of one or two basic math topics (e.g., long division, times tables for 2–6, decimal equivalents of fractions, etc.) and then designate a day (once a month? once a week?) when you will meet to have a friendly, competitive math drill. The participants could be rewarded with a homemade pizza and brownies or a trip to the park together after the competition.
9. If you have a large family, take turns giving one-on-one attention to each child as he tackles weekly math lessons. For example, on Mondays work with Sue, on Tuesdays work Jane, and on Wednesdays work directly with Steven. It’s comforting to know that Mom will be “right there” for math, at least on each child’s “math day.”
10. In addition to regular math assignments and activities (i.e., use of curricula, workbooks, worksheets, review time, etc.) require older children to create and construct a math-themed bulletin board every month. If you don’t have a real bulletin board, use a piece of poster board as a bulletin board, or apply the elements of the bulletin board to the schoolroom wall—or even the refrigerator!
Here’s a simple example: One year when our children were young, we went on a walk in the fall and gathered different kinds of leaves. As we enjoyed God’s beautiful world, we talked about Him and all of the things He has made and given us to enjoy. We talked about the colors of the leaves, their shapes, the trees from which they had fallen, etc.
When we got home, we made crayon colorings (place a piece of paper over the leaf and rub over it, on the paper, with a crayon; the imprint of the leaf will appear) and waxed paper place mats (iron leaves between two sheets of waxed paper—with Mom’s help, of course). Then we made a simple bulletin board: leaves cut out of construction paper with addition problems on each one.
The bulletin board was in our schoolroom, and each day we would take a few minutes to see if “we” could say the answers to the problems that were displayed on that bulletin board. When we mastered all of those, we replaced the leaves with new construction paper leaves that displayed a new set of math problems. The bulletin board served as a reminder of our fun nature walk and also provided us with a simple tool for daily math drill.
11. If two or more of your children are close in age, encourage (or assign) the older student to explain (in simple terms) to a younger sibling a math topic that he’s currently studying. The more he explains it, the better he will understand it himself, and he may just motivate his younger brother or sister to keep working hard so that he or she can advance to the cool stuff he’s learning!
12. Be brave. Think outside the box and consider using some innovative math books, such as the Life of Fred books (www.stanleyschmidt.com/FredGauss/index2.html). Andrea Newitt, TOS’s Assisting Editor, has used these with much success.
13. Use your computer as a math resource. Check out these websites for some creative ideas: www.mathwire.com, www.figurethis.org, mathcounts.org, www.livingmath.net, www.simplycharlottemason.com/books/your-business-math, www.funbrain.com, www.camel.math.ca/Education/mpsf, aplusmath.com, www.coolmath.com, mathplayground.com, www.coolmath4kids.com, and webmath.com.
14. Use writing as a math tool! For example, work together to write funny, challenging, beneficial word problems. Brainstorm about them. Demonstrate that math skills are an essential component of success—for moms, scientists, bus drivers—everyone. This is a great idea for “learning together” as you apply math principles and review math facts. For a more in-depth discussion of ways to use writing in math class, see Cheryl Bastarache’s excellent article titled “Mild-Mannered Math No More” [Winter 2008/09].
15. Challenge your students to identify situations (beyond the classroom) in which math skills are required. Award points for each discovery (which could be shared with the family), and reward each child when he has earned 5 points (or whatever you deem appropriate).
16. Ask around to find older students who really love math, and invite one of them to tutor your child/children once a week. You can offer to pay the tutor or barter with his mom to find a way your family can “return” the tutor’s investment of time and knowledge.
17. Find a curriculum that has a built-in math tutor with it, such as Teaching Textbooks (www.teachingtextbooks.com), or DIVE (Digital Interactive Video Education, www.diveintomath.com) CDs that offer tutoring for Saxon math curriculum. Check into the myriad options of digital curriculum available. See Cheryl Bastarache’s article titled “Tapping the Technology Toolbox” in this issue for more information.
18. Arrange to take a field trip once a month to a place that will interest your children. Prior to the field trip, discuss ways that math plays an essential role in either the business or occupation that will be highlighted in the field trip. During the field trip, ask the host to share ways that math is used daily in his business or job. If you don’t have the means or time to take field trips regularly, your children could conduct phone interviews with individuals from your church or neighborhood, asking them how math skills are necessary in their lives daily. The more you can show your children how much math is needed, the more they will either want, or at least be willing, to gain math skills. They can even create a lapbook or math journal about it all!
19. Help your students explore the potential to enter math competitions. Simply google “math competitions for students,” and you may be surprised by how many opportunities are available—some with rewards such as college scholarships.
20. Set aside some time at the beginning of the school year to find out about innovative, fun, free math resources that are available online. For example, free math tutorials, free online homework help, free worksheets, free diagnostic tools, free math games, free math tests, and many more free resources can be found easily. Gain at least a general impression of what’s available, and as the school year progresses, take advantage of the tools that you need. Did you know we offer free monthly unit studies that often include math? Visit our webpage under “Newsletters” and sign up for our Teacher’s Toolbox.
21. Take five minutes each day to have “calculator drills,” in which your students (armed with calculators) compete to solve math problems that you read aloud.
22. Ask the Lord to make you alert to ways to use math skills wherever you go: the soccer field, the grocery store, or your own dining room. For example, students could apply skills related to percentage and probability using stats from a soccer game; students could practice adding, subtracting, fractions, and percentage as the costs of items are tallied and compared at the grocery store; and students could count how many plates are on the table or in the hutch. “Think math,” and practice throughout the day—not just during class time.
23. Children starting their own businesses like selling bread, mowing lawns, or walking dogs can all be wonderful tools for teaching math. Students also can learn about percentages by tithing, learn how much to estimate for overhead and supplies, calculate how much to charge for their work, and decide what percentage should be saved and spent.
24. Know your students. If they are “just not getting it” with one math curriculum, don’t be afraid to try another. If your child is more of a block learner and can grasp only one concept at a time, then you might want to try workbooks such as those offered in the Developmental Mathematics (www.timberdoodle.com/math_curriculum_s/148.htm) series by L. George Saad. If they can handle spiral learning (bringing in new concepts while reviewing the old), then they might do well with something like Horizons math (www.aophomeschooling.com/horizons) or Saxon (saxonhomeschool.hmhco.com) math. If they need help with each problem and you don’t have time to explain every problem, then Teaching Textbooks is for you—they offer tutored explanations of every problem in the book. If your students don’t need much help and are great at working independently, you might try Alpha Omega’s LIFEPACs (www.aoacademy.com) for math.
25. Don’t give up!
Donna Rees is a General Editor for TOS. She loves to give useful, homemade, frugal gifts, and she is delighted to share this idea with you. Donna and her family have a large collection of Heat Paks (they usually call them “heat things”) that are used daily—at least until they accidentally overheat them! The Rees family hopes you enjoy making some for yourself and as gifts too.
Deborah Wuehler is the Senior Editor for TOS, editor of the Schoolhouse Support E-Newsletter, wife to Richard, and mom to eight gifts from heaven. She loves digging for buried treasure in the Word, reading, writing, homeschooling and dark chocolate!
Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The
Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Spring 2010.
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