Educational Articles

The following newspaper articles were written
by Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman,

Director of Tutoring For Success, Inc. Check back often to read newly published
articles.

Don't Sweat the Math

October 2005, By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman

Are you better at math or English? Most people can answer
that question easily. For those of you who claim to despise math or just don't
understand it, don't pass along this attitude to your children. The mystery of
math can easily be deciphered. If you can master math facts, fractions,
decimals and percents, estimation, and word problems, you have the basics to
work with higher level math.

**Facts** - Math is logical and full of patterns. When
first graders learn their math facts (one digit addition and subtraction), they
learn patterns. 3+5=8, 5+3=8, 8-5=3, and 8-3=5. Most elementary schools use
math manipulatives such as counters, so children can see exactly what they are
doing. In order to advance to more complicated problems, children need to know
their facts fluently and automatically. Many children learn them just from all
the repetition on their worksheets, but others need more practice at home. My
best way to teach children **addition and subtraction facts** uses four
rules:

__The Doubling Rule__ - Memorize all doubles, such as
6+6=12, and then it is easy to see that 6+7=13 and 6+8=14. This rule
works well for addends that are close together. The same principle holds
for subtraction. 12-6=6, so 12-7 must be 5.
__The Switch-Around__ - For addition, always start with
the larger number, even if you have to switch the numbers around. For 3+8,
switch to 8+3. This rule works well for addends that are far apart.
__Counting Backwards __- For subtraction, when a small
number is subtracted from a large number, just count backwards. 12-2=10.
__Counting Up __- For subtraction, when numbers are
close to each other, such as 9-7, counting up, from 7 to 9, works best.

Many adults are already using some of these strategies, and you
may think they are obvious. However, for many children, direct instruction
will increase their fluency with facts. If you have other strategies that have
helped you learn facts, these may help your children as well.

**Multiplication facts** are more difficult to learn.
You cannot get away with just counting very fast in a pinch, because this will
slow you down tremendously and increase careless errors. Children who memorize
multiplication facts by third grade will have a much easier time solving more
complicated multiplication problems, division, proportions, algebra, and more.
While your child is learning multiplication facts in school, be sure to follow
along and make sure he knows each number before going onto the next. To make
the tables easier to learn, you can use computer software, make up silly
rhymes, order a multiplication fact song on CD, or put flash cards of the
difficult facts in your child's room and review them several times a day.
Short on time? The car is a great place for review. The 6, 7 and 8 tables are
the most difficult, but 9 has many shortcuts. My favorite is this: 9 X 5 = ?
Subtract 1 from 5 to get the first digit, (5-1=**4**) and for the second digit,
count up from there to get to 9. (4+**5**=9) So the answer is 45. Once
multiplication facts are memorized, division facts are easy because they are
opposites. Again, patterns are important.

**Decimals and Fractions Made Easy - **Decimals are easy
to learn because at least at the beginning, they can be converted into money.
Children are usually motivated by money. It is imperative to understand that
decimals are the same as fractions and percents, in a different format.
Everyone needs to know certain basic relationships: ½ = .5 = 50%.
1/4=.25=25%. 1/10 = .1=10%. To review fractions, start with ½ a sandwich, 1/8
a pizza, or ¼ of an apple. Play a fraction game. I have one that I use with
all ages if I suspect that a student does not really understand what a fraction
is. It is called "Fractions are Easy as Pie" and can be ordered from
sciencekit.com, item #1716203. For more options, search for "fraction game" at
Amazon.com or explore hammett.com for math games and other teaching supplies.

**Estimation Counts** - Every elementary school textbook
has a unit on estimation, but it is important to incorporate rounding and estimating
when solving all problems. For example, if you compute the problem 500-250 and
get 25, you can't accept that answer because you know that the answer has to be
in the hundreds. When reviewing homework with your child, make sure the answers
are logical choices based on estimation. A good practical exercise is to go
grocery shopping and estimate the total by rounding the price of each item.

**Practice Mental Math** - Can your child easily compute
200 + 350? If so, how about 200 + 351? Mental math takes your knowledge of
math facts and estimation further by generalizing to bigger numbers. Any first
grader who can add 3+4 can also add 300 + 400 or 3000+4000, and how impressive!
A second grader should be able to quickly add 20 + 18, and add 19 +18 by
starting with 20 and then subtracting 1. Mental math exercises keep your brain
active and keep up math skills and math fluency. The car is a great place to
challenge each other.

**Life is Full of Word Problems** - Word problems do not
have to be scary. The most important part of attacking a word problem is to
understand what the question is asking. Then, make the problem more manageable
by taking notes, writing down the problem, drawing a picture, or creating a
chart. If possible, plug in the answer at the end to see if it works.
(Plugging in the answer is also a great strategy for algebra equations).

Finally, do not miss the opportunity to use math in everyday
life. Word problems come up all the time - be sure to let your children help
solve them. Challenge your children by making up word problems. For example,
how much money will it cost on gas for a family trip if gas costs $2.24 a
gallon, the car gets 20 miles/gallon, and the trip is 220 miles each way? You
can make up all sorts of problems and even make them fun and silly.

Most importantly, do not let your children fall behind in
math because catching up is difficult. Every aspect of elementary school math
is a stepping stone, and proficiency is necessary to succeed at the next steps.
At the first signs of trouble, get your child extra help, from a family member,
teacher, or tutor. You will be glad you did.