Making a Mathematical Hit

With consistent, loving instruction and individual attention, most children will eventually learn all their numbers facts and basic concepts. To excel in mathematics however, students need to do more than simply know these facts; they need to know how and when to apply them.

Here are three ways to accomplish this. First, have a positive attitude about mathematics. Second, emphasize aspects of mathematics that are fun, interesting, and relevant. Third, move beyond the view of mathematics as computation to the idea of mathematics as problem solving.

Positive Attitude

Children have a positive attitude about mathematics when their parents do. Choosing to teach their own children, home educators have already shown independence and initiative. We can also move beyond societal biases when it comes to mathematics. Both The I Hate Mathematics Book (Little Brown, 1975) and Mathematics for Smarty Pants by Marilyn Burns (Little Brown, 1982) are full of lots of interesting ideas and activities, but their titles subtly ridicule people who like math. In contrast, home schooling mothers can view mathematics as a challenging discipline their families can enjoy exploring.

In Math Curse, Jon Scieszka relates a horrible day where a child lives in terror as he faces math problem after math problem. May we see problems as a blessing rather than a curse. Home educators are some of the best problem solvers I know! Consider the following situation faced by a friend.

Organizing a trip to the local IMAX theatre, one mother had arranged for 10 families to see some shows there. Mysteries of Egypt was scheduled to be shown at 12:15 and Wild California at 2:30. The morning of the event, the field trip organizer received a call, saying that Mysteries of Egypt would now be shown at 12:15 and 2:30 and that Wild California wouldn’t be shown at all until 4:45. She was given 10 minutes to contact all 10 families to see if and how they wanted to reschedule the shows they had paid for. This mom also had to finish getting her 4 children and herself ready to go down town, pack water clothes to play in the city fountains on a hot day, and be prepared to meet her husband for lunch. Making use of their two phone lines, this expert problem solver managed to contact all but one of the families and rearrange the ticket orders just in time! She then had to quickly decide if she still had time to ride the light rail down town or resort to driving the car and hope to find parking.

Now, there are some days when the problems we face seem overwhelming. To patiently handle those days, we need to trust God to help us. Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through him who who gives me strenghth. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but we will be given strength to overcome obstacles: mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. As seen in Romans 5, this in turn will produce character. “Trials bring about perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

If any apprehension still remains, perhaps this quote from Albert Einstein (1879-1955) will ease it. “Do not worry about your problems in mathematics. I can assure you, mine are still greater.”

The first point then is to have a positive attitude toward problem solving and pass it on to your kids. You are good problem solvers and your children can be too!

Math can be fun, relevant, and interesting

While I have often heard otherwise, math can be amusing. Search for riddle books including Math For All Seasons by Greg Tang,picture books such as The Greedy Triangle (Brainy Day Books) by Burns, and colorful dictionaries like G Is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book by David Schwartz. Consistently display new topics and problems with The Mathematics Calendar 2006 by Theoni Pappas. Traditional games of Chess, Go, and Muggins as well as modern games of SET Game and Mastermind develop analytical thinking.

Study how mathematics is found in nature, art, music, and poetry. Theoni Pappas presents many such illustrations in her books. Math is also found in literature. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Dover Thrift Editions) by Edwin A. Abbot is an imaginative novel about living in a 2 dimensional world.

Read biographies of mathematicians, such as those in Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians. Pascal was not only a famous mathematician and a believer, but was educated by his father at home. Actually his father thought that Blaise should not pursue math and took all his math books away. While you might be tempted to follow this approach, if your child is not a “Pascal” this might not be appropriate! Making math interesting and relevant will add pizzazz to your mathematics curriculum.

Mathematics as Problem Solving

Finally move beyond thinking of math as calculation after calculation. Instead think of mathematics as problem solving. When mathematicians solve problems, they use arithmetic as a tool. It is a tool that is essential, but useless alone. Just as you do when solving real life problems, conquer math problems by analyzing your current situation, defining your goal, and determining a way to get there. In most math problems, the plan to reach the goal will involve computations.

In addition to everyday life, there are many sources of challenging problems. Dale Seymour publishes a wide variety of elementary level problems in Techniques of Problem Solving Decks. Math contests are a good source of problems at the upper levels. Contests sponsored by the Mathematics Association of America (http://www.unl.edu/amc/e-exams/e5-amc10/amc10.html) raise problem solving skills to a new level.

Having problems to solve won’t make you an expert problem solver. Patience, perseverance and practice will. Learn to develop a systematic approach to problem solving and use it consistently. Be confident. Explore amusements in mathematics. Solve problems, problems, and more problems. Then go knock the ball out of the park!

This is math-mom.com, the website built on our belief that learning is naturally fun. With the right expectation and approach, anyone can enjoy learning. But since each of us is unique, we each must find our own best way to learn. We know that we have found our way when learning is fun.

Here you will find books, products, and ideas that our family has used to make learning fun for each one of us. We hope that it encourages you to find your own way to have the fun of learning.