Friday, July 10, 2009

Math Tricks

The other day my friend Mandy posted a comment asking if I had any math tricks to help the kids learn math concepts. As I was mentally processing what I would share with her that we had learned, it occurred to me that a blog post might be even more effective. I know many of you have handy tricks up your sleeve that might help the rest of us tremendously! So, consider this your invitation to share!

Math was Olivia's favorite subject until she had to start learning things like addition and subtraction. Yep, it was spoiled pretty quickly. To some extent, there's no way to get around the boring repetition of learning those facts, but here are a few tips we've tried as we've progressed through addition, subtraction, and multiplication.

- Flash cards are really pretty essential but can be so boring. So, here are some thoughts.
  • Try mixing it up. Try turning it to the side of the flash card that shows the answer but cover up one of the other numbers (an addend, the minued or subtrahend, etc.). Not only does it challenge them to think about the problem in a different light, but it also makes it just different enough to spark a new interest.
  • Try making it into a game by doing silly things like seeing how many weird voices you can use while going through flash cards, making designs with the flashcards that have been answered correctly (Olivia likes making flowers), or coming up with funny sounds and faces for right and wrong answers.
- Felt kits have been so helpful for us, but really anything that has sets that can be divided into groups can work. We've used blocks, crayons, M&M's, etc. Our felt kits (passed down from my mother - I think originally from A Beka) have a tree to use as the base, and then there are flying birds of two colors, ducks, pears, and apples of two colors. Here's what we do...
  • For addition and subtraction, I'll say things like, "Four birds were resting in the tree. Seven birds were flying. How many birds were there altogether?" or "Seven birds were in the tree and three flew away. How many birds are left?"
  • For multiplication, I will put equally numbered groups of birds or fruit in different places (in the tree, in the air, on the ground) and ask what the easiest way is to determine how many there are altogether. The kids just think it's the most fun ever, and they often ask if they can play with the felt pieces so they can do it on their own!
  • We also have fraction sets - pies divided into various numbers of pieces. All sorts of fraction activities from basic introduction to adding and subtracting fractions can be done with felt fraction pies.

- One of the most useful tools in the "formal" part of our school day is to just sit and do it with them. Some days Olivia just can't get through even a row of eight or nine addition problems. So, I act as her scribe. She still does all of the problem-solving, but I write all the answers. She just loves it! It also gives her practice with some of the terminology...for example, in 5,368 + 1,229, she has to be sure to tell me that 8+9 is "seventeen - write seven and carry the one." It reinforces the habit of carrying (or borrowing!) that one - something that can easily be forgotten.

The above ideas are most easily done when homeschooling, but can be implemented during homework and playtime if you don't homeschool. But, by far the most helpful math trick for me - and the one that can be done no matter how your child is educated - is life incorporation.

We use math daily and don't even think about it! Well, I've made it a point to start thinking about it. In doing so, I've been able to show the girls how real math is in every day life and therefore convince them of its importance! Here are some ways we do it...
  • Intentionally double a recipe and have your child calculate the needed portions. This can grow in complexity based on your child's knowledge level. For example, Olivia has enough familiarity with fractions that she can easily figure out how to double a recipe that calls for 1/2, 1/3, or 1/4 of a measure. For a bit of a challenge, I talk her through figuring out how to double 2/3.
  • Ask age-related questions. My girls love trying to figure out how old their siblings will be when they are at different ages. For greater mental challenge, add in your own age (yes, that means you'll have to admit it to your kids who will then make sure to tell everyone else!).
  • Whenever you have rows and columns of just about anything, ask your kids what the quickest way is to figure up the total. For example, anytime we make cookies, I try to use various sizes of cookie sheets and encourage the kids to make even rows of cookies. That way they can easily count rows and columns and decide to multiply for the total on each pan and then add up the sums for the total cookie count.
  • Find ways to have kids sorts things for you, divide them into groups, and then multiply. I needed my girls to sort and count some blocks so I could get an accurate count of how many of each type we had. Once they sorted them into colors, I had Angela divide them into groups of five and then count by fives to tell me how many there were. I had Olivia divide them into other group sizes and then multiply by the number of groups (seven groups of four each, etc). We sort and count multiple times in a week without even thinking about it. Let them help!
  • Keep kids posted on event dates. When they ask how many days until _________, tell them what the event date is and what today's date is, and then have them figure it out - younger kids can count by looking at the calendar and older kids can subtract. This also works with time, especially if an activity is scheduled to happen within the hour.
  • Have the kids figure out how many fish sticks or chicken nuggets need to be cooked based on how many kids there are and how many each child should eat.
  • Sit back and watch - they will start doing it on their own and teaching it to their younger siblings! And, you can sit back and smile knowing that the elusive 6x8 multiplication fact that they just cannot seem to get has now finally sunk in and will never be missed again!
I do want to share one more resource. I will confess, we haven't used it, but this looks great and I would love to hear input from any of you who have been using it. Sonlight has a DVD resource called Mathtacular that is supposed to be a ton of fun! The link is to the K-2 set, but there are other sets (in addition to a new one that my blog friend Luke and his cohorts are working on right now).

Those are our fun tricks. What are yours? I'd love to hear - any new math trick is always welcome in our house!

2 comments:

Mandy said...

I'm not even sure I know how to double 2/3... ;)

These are GREAT ideas! Thank you so much for taking the time to write them all down! I need to print this out so I can go back to it... awesome methods!

Luke said...

Thank you so much for the link love! [smile]

~Luke