I hated Math in school. It just didn’t make sense. The teacher stood at the front of the room, drew numbers and diagrams on the board and told us to memorize the facts and formulas. For the kids who were able to intuitively "break the code" and understand what was going on, Math was great. But for the rest of us Math remained a constant struggle. Does this sound like you or your kids? Well, I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be that way.
But how do you help a child who struggles in Math? Practising the same questions over and over doesn’t help understanding. The key is finding another way to explain it … a way that makes sense to him or her—building on what he/she already knows.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at multiplication …
What is multiplication?
At its very basic level, multiplication is just a fast way of adding groups. For example 3×4 is just another way of saying "3 groups of 4" or "4+4+4" or skip-counting by 4’s three times … 4, 8, 12.
If your child is having problems understanding this, it’s time to break out the dried beans or pasta! Have your child organize macaroni into groups of 4’s. Then lead them, "How many noodles are in 3 groups of 4? Let’s count. 1-2-3-4…5-6-7-8…9-10-11-12. So three groups of 4 noodles equals 12 noodles altogether." One way to extend this would be to then be to ask him/her to estimate (an informed guess) how many noodles would be in say 4 groups of 4, then check their answer. The key is to keep it simple, hands-on, and take it slowly–building on success. While there is definitely a place for memorization of these basic facts, it should come after the child really understands what they mean.
Memorizing vs. understanding
At the next level, students have to learn how to multiply larger number like 6×34. When we went to school, we were taught to put the "6" under the "34" and start by multiplying "6×4". Problems started when we couldn’t put the answer "24" down. We were taught to record the "4" and "carry the 2" to the next column. (now referred to as "regrouping"). Why? Most of us never knew–we just did it, and that’s why we made so many mistakes. We then multiplied 6×3 (18) and added the extra 2 to make 20. We recorded the 20 to the left of the 4 and got the answer 204–hopefully. Unfortunately for most, this method is more about memorizing a process, than understanding what you are really doing with the numbers.
Developing number sense
The trick here is to help the kids to really get a good sense of the numbers. They need to understand, for example, that 34 is the same is "30+4". Building on that concept you can turn 6×34 into (6×30) + (6×4). Take a look at the example.
This time when you multiply 6×4 record the whole 24. The next step is to multiply not 6×3, but 6×30 (what it really means), and record the answer below the 24. Being sure to line up the columns, add the two numbers together. You get the same answer, and hopefully it is a little clearer, reducing the chance of making a mistake.
It’s easy when you see how it works.
If only a teacher could have shown me other ways of solving Math problems, I wouldn’t have had to wait 20 years before I finally "got it". Help you kids make sense of Math. If they don’t "get it" show them, or ask someone else to show them different ways.
About the author
As an award-winning educator and Parenting & Youth Coach, Rob Stringer BA, BEd, CPC has spent almost two decades helping kids, teens, and adults meet with success, and live lives they LOVE!. Although based outside of Toronto Ontario, Rob’s coaching practice is global, with clients across Canada, the United States, Australia, and Asia. In addition to Parenting with Intention, he most recently launched, Youth Coach Canada–a non-profit organization dedicated to making affordable professional life coaching services available to youth aged 11-21.
Interested in having Rob speak at your child’s school, church, or organization? For more information on speaking engagements, programs, and upcoming workshops for parents and youth, visit www.YouthCoachCanada.com or call 905.515.9822.