Solving Tonight’s Math Homework Crisis With the Emphasis on Learning Math

All this talk about Math anxiety is all well and good, but my problem is here and now and is sitting in front of me with tears in his eyes and I don’t know how to help. Help me! I know this scenario. The household is in turmoil with trying to get dinner on the table. Or it’s time for bed and he still hasn’t finished the homework. Or you’re rushing out the door to catch the bus and he has a test today. Stop! No math problem can be solved under that kind of pressure. Don’t even try. It is a futile attempt and only adds to the anxiety.

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Here is good advice for helping your child with his math problems! First, go away by yourself to a quiet place with the math problem in hand. You are going to solve it yourself before you work with your child. Start with quieting yourself. You are an adult. Regardless of your own math experiences in school and your beliefs regarding your math capabilities, you really are capable of solving this problem. You have life experiences that you can call on to assist you in solving this problem. “But” you say “I could never do this when I was in school!” So what! School is school, but it is not real life. Real life presents us with math problems that we solve everyday. The difference may be that our solution or approach may not look like anything we ever learned in school. Again, so what! Solving the problem is what is important, not knowing the ‘correct way’ to solve it. You can do this, but not with a child looking over your shoulder. Trust me. Even with a BA in Mathematics, I too need to get away to a quiet spot to mull over the problem and work out a solution Cours particuliers Maths.

Second, take time to first think of three ways to approach the problem. Could you draw a picture? Could you make the problem simpler by using smaller numbers? Could you work the problem backwards, i.e. plug in a best guess for the answer? Jot them down. There is no one right way. I don’t care what you’ve been taught in school. That’s a lie. So from the different approaches, choose the one you think will get you to the solution. Work the approach until you get stuck. What have you learned? This is very important! Pay Attention Here. What have you learn from this approach other than it doesn’t lead to the answer? This was not a waste of your time. It has added to your experiences. This bit of knowledge will help you in your second attempt. So move on. Do not dwell on this first attempt, because it wasn’t a failure. It was just a dead end. Turn around and begin again with your next best approach to the problem. Work it until you get stuck. If other approaches occur to you while you are working an approach, jot them down quickly, but don’t abandon your current approach until you get stuck. Don’t get discouraged, take a break between approaches. Come back to it fresh in a little while. This is important too. Your mind doesn’t stop working on the problem just because you stopped. Don’t worry about it either! Worry is detrimental to problem solving. Worry reinforces those lies that you are not capable. You can do this in time. By taking a break and coming back fresh, you’ll be amazed when you get back to it how quickly it progresses.

Eventually, you will solve the problem. Now what do you do with this. Before you rush out to your child and if you have time, I would recommend you try another approach to see if you could come up with the same answer. You may even want to go back to the failed approaches to see where they went wrong in light of the real answer. This exercise may seem like a waste of time, but again you are adding to your math experience. This knowledge will cement the learning that took place and may help you with other problems down the road. Every wrong answer is an opportunity for learning, for gaining insight into the world of math. You may even discover that your first approach was fine and would have yielded the correct answer if you hadn’t made that dumb mistake in calculating such and such. Mistakes happen. You may discover that your first approach didn’t work because of a wrong assumption or a misinterpretation of the problem. All of this adds to your knowledge and experience.

Third, you need to reconcile your approach to the problem with the approach the school mandates in the math textbook. Notice that earlier I didn’t suggest you try to figure out how the textbook wanted you to solve the problem. You could have but what would you have learned? Of course I also assumed if you could have solved the problem as the math textbook says to solve it, you would not have come to me for help in the first place. So why go back to the textbook now? Because we have to play the game the school insists that we play. As far as the school is concerned, the math textbook is the ‘ultimate authority’ on how these problems need to be solved. If you can reconcile your approach with the approach used in the textbook, you’ll have a better chance of explaining the textbook’s approach to your child. So now we come to the moment of truth, working with your child.

You can take many approaches here. What you decide to do may depend on how much time you have, your child’s disposition, and your need to adhere to the rules. The most beneficial approach for your child would be to allow him to discover the solution himself just as you did. Working with you, define three or more approaches. Let him go down a dead end or two. Discuss together why the approach didn’t work and what was learned. Explore the problem in a relaxed manner, knowing that the point of the exercise is not just to get the right answer, but to learn problem solving. You are developing an analytical mind in your child. Real life problems don’t look like the ones in the school’s math textbooks. It is better if your child learned to think outside the textbook. Don’t be fooled. The schools are only interested in a child who can learn the ‘proper formulas,’ plug in the numbers and get the right answers consistently. Those who play their game well get the A’s, but what have they learned. I would want more for my child.

Now let’s get back to the real world. You don’t always have time to do what I have suggested above. You may have an anxious child that insists that he has to play the game by the school’s rules or his answers will be wrong. I understand. I’ve been there. Do what you can. If you need to teach your child how to solve the problem as the book does, do that. But use the insight you gained from your approach and reconciling it to the book’s method to better explain the problem and solution to your child. Sometime if you break it down a little bit more than the book does, this can unlock the understanding for your child. Or have your child show you how he’s trying to solve it and discover together his own misinterpretation or wrong assumption. Let him teach you how to do the problem. Again the emphasis should be on what can be learned from solving the problem, rather than just getting the right answer.


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