Saturday, September 11, 2010

Can My Child Do Well In Math?

The entire subject of math is actually quite simple, logical and easy to understand. However, it must be taught on a gradient. In other words, children must first understand an introductory level of math, be able to actually apply their understanding to a real-world scenario and become adept and skillful in the use and application of the concept – at that level – before being introduced to higher level concepts. (One example of not applying this idea is the introduction of algebra concepts before a student has even learned their multiplication tables. An example of an introductory level of math to start with would be simply counting out loud and being able to associate each number with a real-world quantity – example: three items for the number “three”, four items for the number “four”, etc.)

Once the child has mastered a concept at that introductory level, only then are they ready to proceed to a slightly higher level. Then, when that new level is mastered, the child is ready for the next level, etc. In this way a child’s self-confidence, certainty and skill level steadily increase until they acquire a very thorough understanding of all required math concepts and can use them skillfully in real-world applications. When accomplished as above there is no problem for students to achieve higher grade point averages. Additionally, when math is taught in this manner, students don’t “forget” how to add, subtract, multiply or divide; they don’t “forget” how to use fractions, decimals and percents. (I used the quotations around the word “forget” because often a student has never really learned the concept in the first place but has simply learned to mimic what they were taught without really understanding the concept or being able to apply it.)

The idea of teaching math on a gradient is the approach used by all of the tutors at Success! Tutoring. While the idea of introducing students to the concepts of algebra and geometry at an earlier and earlier age may, at first glance, seem like a great way to accelerate the education of students, it becomes a losing proposition if the student has not been adequately prepared by acquiring and mastering the skills required at lower levels. In such a case the student just feels like they’ll never understand math and may want to give up. Please note that the problem is not with the child – it is not that they cannot learn or that they have a “learning disability.”

Often, we’ll have first, second or third grade students coming in with homework that includes basic algebra concepts. (2 + [ ] = 6 or 3 x [ ] = 12) While our tutors often work with students that have such homework assignments and help them to get through them, they always go back to the basics and work with the students to ensure they grasp the earlier concepts and eventually master them. So, even though our tutors do help students at whatever level is required, they always go back to the basics and then once those basics are understood, they take the student to the next level, and then the next, etc. until the student can understand the material being introduced in the classroom and can apply it. That is why we have had a number of students that thought they would never understand math prior to coming to Success! Tutoring and now excel in math and do well in the higher levels of math including advanced calculus. It all comes down to the right approach and working with a student until they fully understand each level before moving onto the next.

Note that the above concept also applies not only to math but to other subjects as well. Along the same line of thought is the use of words that are way beyond the grasp of young children. While working with one second grader, I saw that he had the following word problem: “It was John’s malodorous* duty to count the number of shoes left in the bin over the summer.” Why in the world would the word “malodorous” be used in any book for a second grader? This is just one example of why students often have difficulty understanding concepts being used or introduced in their class room.

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Anyone interested in finding out more about Success! Tutoring and how we may be able to help your child, please call Vicky at (818) 557-7379.

Thank you,
Armando Salcido,
Executive Director
*Malodorous definition: Adj. Having a bad odor.

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