Slow Down to Support Math Learning
When you watch the news or sports channel, it’s easy to associate being fast with being great. We see the fastest athletes winning medals, the fastest racecars taking victory laps, and the owners of the fastest horses claiming the purse. But when it comes to supporting your virtual school student as he or she learns math, the best advice may just be to slow down!
Education researchers have discovered that timed tests, rote memorization, and being expected to answer math problems rapidly not only contribute to math anxiety, but also can have a negative impact on learning. Fortunately, the parents of virtual school students can support the kind of deep, reflective thinking that helps kids excel in math, in many ways.
Talk About It
Encourage your child to explain how he or she solved a math problem. This practice will help develop verbal communication skills while also reinforcing a deeper understanding of the mathematical concepts involved. If you’ve never done this before, you may have to prompt your child with questions—ideally questions that can’t be answered with yes or no! Here are a few examples to get you started:
- What was your first step?
- What did you do next?
- Why did you decide to use that approach?
- What ways did you consider and decide not to use?
Stretch Your Thinking
It’s important to recognize that flash cards aren’t the only way—or even the best way—to learn math facts! Educators have found that the students who excel are the ones who learn math facts along with a deep understanding of numbers and the ways they relate to each other. Teachers call this “number sense.”
Children learn number sense by working with numbers in a flexible way—manipulating them, taking them apart, and discovering multiple ways to solve one problem. If you learned math during the era of “only one way to solve a problem,” then supporting this type of learning will require a significant change in your mind-set, but it will be worth it. Here are a few exercises you can try with your child:
- Instead of practicing math facts with standard flash cards, try “reverse” flash cards: show the answer, and ask your child to provide two or more math facts for that result. For example, if the answer is 24, your child might say 6 × 4, 8 × 3, 12 × 2, 30 – 6, 10 + 10 + 4, etc.
- Challenge your child to come up with three different methods to solve a math word problem. Answers could be arrived at by using various operations and strategies. A child might add or subtract numbers instead of multiplying or dividing. Other examples include starting from an answer the student knows and counting up or down, estimating the answer before calculating, making a chart or drawing to help make the problem visual, etc. All of these options help reinforce number sense and flexibility.
- When you’re using math in real life, talk through your reasoning with your child and then reveal other ways you could have arrived at your solution. Or ask your child to check your answer using an alternate method.
- Play family-friendly games that involve numbers to practice math facts and reinforce number sense.
Enable Productive Struggle
Remember that sometimes the deepest, most profound learning comes from figuring things out yourself! Allow your child the privilege of having a “lightbulb flash” of discovery by stepping back and letting him or her wrestle with a challenging problem. If your student becomes frustrated, you can use the techniques we’ve just discussed to suggest approaches that might help, or use questions to help guide the struggle so your child comes closer to the solution.
Every struggle that leads to discovery will add to your child’s confidence in his or her math ability. And as the parent of a virtual school student, you have the ability to witness those “aha!” moments. Working collaboratively with your child and his or her teacher, you can help your child develop the number sense, confidence, and skills needed to excel and to be a lifelong math lover!
What winning approaches have you tried to help your child grasp and appreciate math? Share your brightest ideas in the comments!