How to Help with Math Homework

(image: Scholastic.com)

“Why do I need to know this?”

“I don’t know where to start.”

Math can be rough for many students. Whether it’s one lesson or a whole semester of lessons, difficulty in a subject can make learning very frustrating. If your students are struggling in math, here are some good tips to help with their homework.

1) Practice Word Problems. Many students (and adults!) are afraid of word problems “because of all the numbers,” a student said. “I don’t know where to start.” A word problem is just a real life example. There are problems about house painting, creating a garden, ladders, cooking, and plenty others. Help your student by talking about the situation in the problem. Thinking about it in real life helps make the problem easier to understand.

If your student still needs help, here are questions to ask about the problem. What is the problem telling you? What is it asking for? What is the formula needed to find that? Do you have all the pieces for the formula, or do you need to find one of the pieces first? Plug the pieces you already have into the formula, to find the piece you want. And a very important thing: when you get an answer, does it answer the problem’s question?

2) Be aware of how the student is being taught. There are often at least a couple different approaches and techniques to any lesson. Being aware of how the current teacher is teaching a lesson prevents conflicts in methods. It’s ok to show your student a helpful strategy or shortcut, but ONLY do it after your student has learned the lesson the way the teacher wants it done. Otherwise, it creates a lot of confusion. Review the way the teacher is teaching the lesson. It may be different from the way you learned it (especially with today’s Common Core and other standards).

3) Use numbers every day. As I’ve mentioned before, when numbers are a regular part of everyday language, students will see them as normal, not as something to be feared. We use numbers every day, even when we’re not paying attention. When you buy lunch, when you buy gas, when you’re reviewing your bank account, when you’re working out, when you’re counting calories… seriously, every day. Show your student how the household tasks are opportunities for learning math. Activities such as cooking or doing the laundry all reinforce math lessons.

4) Make learning math fun! There are plenty of games (online, for your console, in books, etc.) for your student to play. Play together. There are also lots of pictures to illustrate math concepts. A popular image that made the rounds this month is the above lego image (from Scholastic.com) illustrating different fractions. Here is the whole article from last year containing that image. Legos and other toys are great ways to relate math to something your student understands.

5) End the myth of “I’m Bad at Math.” As the authors of this article state, “basic ability in the subject isn’t the product of good genes but hard work.” From the authors’ experiences (and my own), math ability is more the product of hard work and practice than it is a genetic given. Just as great athletes have been playing (practicing!) since they were young, so do great students have to start practicing when they’re young also–and CONTINUE practicing, of course. Thus, well-prepared students are the ones who end up “good” at a subject.

AndREMAIN POSITIVE! The adult’s attitude is reflected in the student’s attitude. Adults are the ones who inspire students to be “good” at something.

So, instead of relinquishing math ability to “I’m doomed to stay this way,” encourage your student to practice solving problems and seeing math in everyday activities. Remember to have fun.

Happy learning!

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