Teaching Math

The Three-Step Method to Teaching Math

September 23, 2019
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If you want to help your child learn new math concepts, then effective teaching and communication methods are your best tools. The first step is understanding your child’s level (learn how to do that here). If you are not working with your student at their level, then it will be difficult for them to understand you and that can actually inhibit your student from learning.

The following three-step process to teach math effectively is what we use at Elephant Learning and it is something you can use in your own work with your child. It includes defining an idea, determining if a child recognizes a definition and then allowing a child to produce the idea in order to demonstrate their comprehension. For example:

  • You show your child three objects and say, “This is three.” This is defining.
  • You hold up three objects and ask your child, “How many do I have?” If they respond with “three,” you know they are recognizing.
  • You ask your child to give you three objects and they do so correctly. Now, they are comprehending.

This last step is the proverbial checkmark. If your child can do this, then they truly understand the math concept. This three-step process can be used with all math concepts that you would want to teach your child, including counting, subtraction, multiplication and fractions.

1. Define the Idea

Defining a math concept for your child is where the primary “instruction” is going to occur. You’re going to show them an idea, have them exhibit the idea and then label it with the name of the concept. Let’s go back to a previous analogy we’ve given on how to teach a child their colors.

Related: The Real Reason Math Curriculum is Failing Your Child

You can’t just verbally tell a child what the color red “is” and expect them to understand it. What you do is you show a child red objects and then label them as red, so they can then recognize the color at a later time. Similarly, you have to show a child a math concept and then label it, therefore defining the idea, before they can truly comprehend the concept. You can’t describe to a child what addition is if you’re not doing it. Defining a math concept with a child isn’t as complex as it sounds. Ask the child to give you five things and then four more things. Now, how many do you have? Nine. That’s addition. After the child counts to get the answer let them know, “That is right! Four added to five is nine.”  

2. Recognize the Definition

Can your child accurately give you four building blocks, then five more building blocks and then tell you how many they have in total? Then they recognize addition.

At first, your child is likely going to count all nine building blocks in order to give you an answer, and that’s okay. But at some point, you want them to move to a more advanced counting strategy. They should be able to “count on,” or start at five and then count on to nine, without having to count all of the building blocks over again.

The Elephant Learning app accomplishes this by hiding the first amount of items from the app user, so they’re forced to start at their original number (five) and add on the four items that they can see to get to the correct answer of nine.

3. Demonstrate Comprehension

Once your child is confidently and correctly using the concept to solve problems, they are demonstrating comprehension. For counting, this would be if they are able to produce, for example, seven objects and stop at seven. For addition and subtraction, that is identifying that addition or subtraction would answer a word problem, or a real life problem. For multiplication, that is using it as a tool to solving questions with grouping or arrays.

Related: How to Evaluate Your Child’s Math Skills Based on Language

How to Deal With Pitfalls and Problems

If you’re working with your child and he or she is not demonstrating that they’re able to recognize the definition, it’s just a matter of going back to the definition and explaining it again. This is where you don’t want to get frustrated. You want to remain calm and patient, but don’t repeat yourself too much. If you and your child are both frustrated because they’re not getting the answers right, it can only lead to math anxiety and later avoidance of math on their part down the road.

Maybe it’s not a matter of your child not understanding, but it’s that you’re not teaching the definition properly, at which point it might be time to consult Elephant Learning or another online resource to see how best to teach these definitions.

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Teaching Math Effectively

Teaching math effectively is so much more involved than giving your child a math sheet filled with problems or asking them to memorize some multiplication tables. It requires passing on the experience of math concepts and ensuring a child truly comprehends a math concept before going on to the next one. However, with a little bit of work and a lot of patience, parents can teach their children math in a way that sets them up for future success.

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