I’m sure you’ve heard the classic Aesop fable of the slow tortoise and the speedy hare, but have you applied it to math learning?
While the hare is faster, he’s also overconfident. The tortoise is slower but methodical.
When it comes to teaching math to kids, you may find there’s a spectrum of learning paces to accommodate.
Parents of kids who struggle with math likely wish their child had more confidence.
Parents of advanced math learners may worry they’re skipping key concepts.
Kids who struggle and kids who excel in math both require extra attention. You want to provide the support they need to understand math concepts.
But, for homeschooling parents like Corinna, that’s a tough task.
“I enjoy teaching math, but the time it takes to go through everybody's lessons is incredible,” she says.
Corinna has five daughters ranging from five to 15 years old. And they all had various degrees of math confidence and ability.
Five-year-old Heidi was still learning her basics. Eight-year-old Anna enjoyed doing extra math problems. Anna’s older sister Ellie, 13, had moderate math confidence.
Eleven-year-old Katie is a visual learner who struggled with multi-step math problems. Corinna’s oldest, 15-year-old Maddie, was struggling with her algebra homework. Corinna discovered she had gaps in her math understanding.
Corinna was struggling to address the various needs of her five daughters. Each daughter needed something different.
Imagine her surprise and relief when she discovered the same math app for kids — Elephant Learning — could meet each of her daughter’s needs.
When it comes to homeschooling kids in math, it can be hard to identify a clear, simple goal to aim for. A joint statement made in March 2012 by the Mathematical Association of America and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics states:
“The ultimate goal of the K-12 mathematics curriculum should not be to get students into and through a course in calculus by twelfth grade, but to have established the mathematical foundation… that will enable students to pursue whatever course of study interests them when they get to college.”
That may sound like a frustrating generalization for parents who like distinct targets, but it has important implications.
Jo Boaler, a Stanford researcher and professor of math education, has studied the most effective ways to unleash the math potential in all students.
She says, “Mathematics learning is not a race. It is mathematical depth that inspires students and keeps them engaged and learning mathematics well, setting them up for high-level learning in the future.”
And surprisingly, “There is evidence that students who speed through content without developing depth of understanding are the very ones who tend to drop out of mathematics when they have the chance.”
A sprint-like attitude may seem tempting, but using the Elephant Learning app for 30 minutes per week helps kids build a strong mathematical foundation.
Discovering your child has a natural ability to do math can be thrilling for parents. It may lead you to think your child needs to advance rapidly to more complex math problems.
But it’s important to first confirm that your child understands the math concepts, and is not simply a speedy calculator or adept memorizer.
For students like 8-year-old Anna — who complete math problems with ease — asking them to explain how they arrived at their solution won’t determine their comprehension either.
That’s because their intuitive understanding enables them to skip over traditional problem-solving steps, leaving them unable to explain their solution.
Elephant Learning is the perfect solution for kids like Anna because it provides an appropriate pace of instruction based on their existing skills and allows kids to advance at their own rate.
And, Anna doesn’t have to explain her solutions step-by-step to prove her concept mastery.
First, Anna plays a few games that help Elephant Learning determine which concepts she has truly mastered.
With this knowledge, Elephant Learning then offers Anna games that are challenging — but not impossible.
Corinna may have been concerned that Anna’s speed let her leapfrog over important concepts. That’s where Elephant Learning steps in to ensure Anna understands all of the important foundational concepts.
When Anna began playing on Elephant Learning, she was doing math at the equivalent level of her 8-year-old peers. But as Corinna pointed out, Anna loved doing extra problems. With Elephant Learning advancing her at an appropriate pace, Anna mastered almost two years of math concepts in six months.
But just as importantly, Anna is not bored by a lagging math curriculum. Many of the math problems she solves are disguised as games using familiar real-world examples — like animals and household objects.
These games present math models found in the real world, which can help kids like 13-year-old Ellie who are “good at math,” but need help “making math fun and seeing that math is applied in everyday life,” according to Corinna.
Making math fun is what Elephant Learning is all about. It’s an example of math gamification. It isn’t traditional math problems dressed up in animations. It is a distinct, research-proven approach designed by math educators.
Playing these games — rather than doing math drills on isolated facts — builds the kind of thinking strategies needed for any long-term math success.
Ellie began her Elephant Learning journey doing math at a 9-year-old’s level. But she enjoyed playing the games so much, it was easy for her to do 30 minutes of playtime each week. And after six months, she learned three years of math and is almost caught up with her 13-year-old peers.
Since Elephant Learning adapts to each child’s learning level, it’s an appropriate tool for each of Corinna’s kids — including Katie and Maddie, who were struggling with their own challenges.
Eleven-year-old Katie is a visual learner, and math problems don’t often present visual aids to help her problem-solve. Without something visual she could relate to, Katie was easily distracted.
She was also frustrated by multi-step problem solving — a common problem for visual learners.
When visual learners are presented with information, they create visual representations of the problem in their mind, in the form of a video, photo, or other images. In this way, they grasp math concepts holistically rather than in parts, which is why breaking down the concept into multiple steps is hard for them.
This is also why it’s difficult for visual learners, like Katie, to show their work. They didn’t follow a set of steps in a specific order. They have a big-picture understanding of a problem and perhaps multiple ways of arriving at the solution.
For parents who grew up with the traditional step-following procedures, you might be inclined to think that your child doesn’t understand math if they can’t repeat or memorize steps.
But having this highly adaptable approach to math problem-solving is a great benefit, and Elephant Learning is particularly beneficial to these types of visual learners.
Relationships and patterns are key parts of Elephant Learning’s math games. For example, Katie can see cups filled with different colors to understand and compare fractions. Keeping the games visually interesting holds her interest longer.
Just as important: Removing the requirement to show problem-solving steps frees Katie from the false impression that she’s bad at math because she doesn’t memorize steps well.
“Katie loves online games,” says Corinna, and Elephant Learning has now raised her math confidence.
Though Katie was 11 years old when she began playing, her actual math ability was closer to a 9-year-old. But within six months she is now on track with her peers, and she shows no signs of stopping her math journey.
Overcoming a confidence barrier is also what the oldest sister Maddie faced, as a 15-year-old struggling with Algebra. Corinna worried that she had “learning gaps” that made it “hard for her to complete higher-level math.”
Maddie was stuck in a difficult and familiar cycle. Her lack of understanding previous concepts prevented her from learning new material that was based on those previous, missed concepts.
She was missing mathematical fluency — a balance of conceptual understanding and computational proficiency.
Drills and tests don’t have the power to develop this fluency in the way that math games do.
And, unlike drills, games allow opportunities for repeated practice in a non-threatening manner. For kids like Maddie who were already insecure about their math abilities, this informal approach to math practice is a welcome relief. It’s perceived as a fun activity rather than a dreaded exercise.
Maddie’s results show she’s quickly overcoming her obstacles. She began doing math at a 10-year-old’s level. She’s mastered two years of math in six months, with continual improvement putting her on track to her peers.
And while baby sister Heidi is only five years old, she’s already building a positive relationship with math on Elephant Learning.
With all five sisters playing on Elephant Learning, it also gives them something they can talk about.
Having kids talk to each other about math problems is another important way parents can cultivate math fluency.
By encouraging math dialogue, Corinna can help her daughters master math language and speak openly with confidence.