Sunday, January 14, 2018

Struggling in Math

I have gotten a lot of questions in the last 2 months that I will summarize and then answer:

  • My child is struggling with their At Home Schooling math, which consists (usually) of me making them do a math work book that is 2 years beyond their grade level.
  • My child started school at 99% and is now at 85%.

I tend to stay focused on preparing for a strong high school math experience; neither of these two issues ever bothered me and your children are smarter and better than mine.  We did have a dip in test scores and I went into RED ALERT mode until it was corrected. Both of these topics have been covered over the years, but it's pretty hard to dig through my blog to find answers.  In addition, I already deleted the 300 articles that had a play-by-play of my struggles.

Both of these are linked, because in order to get to 99%, your child either has to go to expensive after school math programs that will gradually make them hate math, or your child will work ahead at home.

Struggling In Math
The answer to all of your struggling questions is called 'Backtracking'.  We do it all the time.  I can't imagine doing any math above grade level without a lot of it.  Here are some examples that I've written about while we were doing it:

  1. If we were doing EDM Grade 2 in Kindergarten 3 days a week, at least one day a week we did a first grade math workbook that was just adding and subtraction.  Some times this is a nice break, sometimes it's catch up, some times it's practice.
  2. Sometimes I take 2 or 3 weeks off to cover a concept that we never had or a concept that we just plane stink at.
  3. Sometimes an entire section in the workbook is almost all wrong.  Sometimes it's just a page or an important problem.  The kid just doesn't get it.  I circle the pages and we move on.  A month or 2 later, we'll come back to the circled pages and do them again.
  4. When the child is younger, there are some bad days because of hunger/sleep/sickness issues and we just do flash cards or arithmetic worksheets.  Bad days happen rarely at older ages (always the day after a sleep-over), but when they do, we do nothing at all that day.
  5. Sometimes we take time off from math and do projects like a puzzle or sewing something or a craft or a writing project or art, a comic book, whatever.  In each case, the child just starts doing it and I will not interfere.  I am convinced that these activities will produce a stronger mathematician than actual math.
  6. We like to do things backwards.  So if the book does it one way, we redo the whole thing backwards.
  7. We like to do things step-by-step.  Identifying the mini-steps helps you find backtracking material.  Here's a really simple example.  23 x 15.  This has 4 separate multiplication operations and 3 addition operations.   Maybe your child should just practice multiplying 3 x 4 and 30 x 40, 9 x 2 and 90 x 20 etc for a while before coming back, or 20 x 15 and 3 x 15.

There are two difference between you and me.  First, as previously mentioned, your children are smarter than mine.  Secondly, we back track a lot.  Why continue to struggle with the same material?  Do something else, practice something, come back to it later.  It will all get done in the end because we are both picky and uptight parents about math.

Test Scores

Lately I've been getting a lot of feedback from many parents that test scores are falling.  I get this from almost all parents (like 85% of the ones I talk to) at some point during grade school, usually right around the midpoint.  Here are the reasons:

  1. Your school program teaches and practices math at about the 85% level.  Over time 99% children will end up working at the 85% level.
  2. Your child is sick of doing math and needs a year off.
  3. You are not doing daily math at home at a suitable level and 15% of the country is.
None of this is a bad thing.  I think our program starts pushing math at the appropriate time and produces graduates who are really strong in math.   This will not make a parent happy in the following 2 circumstances:  #1  Your child needs a 99% right now on an annual standardized math test this year.  #2 You have some other objectives in mind that requires a 99%.

Here is my 3 part recipe:

  1. Get math at a suitable level.
  2. Do it.  Backtrack a lot.
  3. Focus on problem solving techniques and not math.  Math will take care of itself.
I can now see that I need another article because the leap between 3rd and 5th grade and it's called problem solving skills.   My particular approach can be summarized as focusing on nothing but problem solving skills during 2nd and 3rd grade and it works.  Not just any set of problem solving skills, but the core skills that are the foundation of all others.  That, in a nutshell, is 95% of the motivation behind Test Prep Math.  The other 5% is making math less boring than it normally is.  

But I'm hearing from parents of 3rd and 4th grade children that didn't go this route.  I've got some thinking to do.  It's solvable.  Anyone can catch up to any level you want to get to.


  1. My second grader is not nailing computer math test in class. School district switched paper math test to computerized test this year. He is advanced in math and we've been doing 4th grade math problems. But computer test seems to have math vocabulary in questions that he doesn't understand the questions completely. What's the best way to learn math vocabulary? I feel like his score is low because of this sort of technical issue although he knows all the math concepts and has problem solving skills.

    1. Two things, and I consider this more important that being ahead in math because it will help grades across the board. First, do word problems, complicated ones. Second, instead of doing 5 or 10 or 20 problems, do 3 and have your child explain to you how to do them. More talking, more thinking, less decimals and long division. Decimals and long division aren't used after 5th or 6th grade anyway in any subject. Maybe science uses decimals.

    2. I've been thinking more about this question. What is the name of this test? You said that there is 'math vocabulary' in that test that your child doesn't know. If this is not the map test, I would suggest you go to and scroll through the grades. You'll see 100% of the vocabulary there. If it is the MAP test, then you may be seeing 3rd and 4th grade concepts that you are not covering, and again, IXL is a good way to get the whole list at once and practice a few problems from each concept.