If you remember the Matt Damon movie, Good Will Hunting, or watched the television show, Numb3rs, you’ll know that most kids aren’t math whizs like those two. People who can look at a 15-line math problem and solve it in their head aren’t normal, in more ways than one. Everyone has talents, but math isn’t one that runs in my family. No savants here, thank you very much.
While my children struggle with math, both their attitudes and their understanding, I don’t let them off the hook. Math is important in everyday life. Try cooking without a basic understanding of measurements. Mix up that ‘t’ of salt with a ‘T’, and you’ll know what I mean. Kids grow up and need to pay for their own living expenses. Math is necessary to budget, both what comes in from working, and what goes out for living. Because they’re not living with me forever.
Yes, I have a calculator on my phone that rarely leaves my side, but math is more than being able to punch in some numbers and get an answer. I want them to understand, at least on a basic level, the reason to know the answer, how to get the answer, and what the answer means. For instance, if they buy several items at the store and only have $20 cash, they need to be able to quickly know when they get close to their limit, plus estimate the tax owed. Otherwise, something has to go back at the cash register. Oh, the shame of admitting they don’t have enough money.
My eighth-grader leads the charge in the math struggle at our house. I’m not going to make it easier by cutting lessons or giving her the answers to the tests, but I will take some of the pressure off by instituting a math notebook. Rather than having her memorize all the formulas (and probably getting half of them wrong), I’m going to have her write down each of the formulas with an example next to it in a notebook. This will allow her to reference problems and use them to work the solutions to other problems. I hope that by having the opportunity to repeatedly work the problems without stressing over knowing all of it from memory, she will not only understand more but also begin to enjoy the thrill of solving the puzzle. That’s what math boils down to. A puzzle to find how much will much stuff will fit into a certain area. Or what temperature will make toffee.
Math is a challenge for many people, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Quantum physics may never be in my kids’ future, but they’ll know how far they can get on a tank of gas. By finding good tools to help overcome the challenge of math, they can still learn and move beyond the basics.
How do you help your children rise to educational challenges?