3 Key Rules for Teaching Math to Kids

3 Key Rules for Teaching Math to Kids

Are you wondering how to teach children math? Teaching math to kids is no easy task. However, there are some specific rules you should follow, no matter what grade level of math you’re teaching. These rules are based on years of research in math and how children learn math.

According to research, you should foster a positive mindset, move from concrete to abstract, and make math apply to the real world. Below, learn the why behind each of these rules and how you can apply it in your home or classroom:

1. Foster a Positive Mindset
Without the right mindset, kids can’t learn math.

Why?

Unfortunately, when students struggle in math, they quickly may decide that “I’m not good at math,” or “I’m not a math person.” These ideas may come from parents, other students, or even the students themselves.

Lots of students believe that intelligence or having ability in math or science is a fixed trait. In other words, students may believe they have no power to change their performance in math or science. This puts students at a disadvantage, according to research by Carol Dweck. The research found that “
interventions that change mindsets can boost achievement and reduce achievement discrepancies.”

On the contrary, students who have growth mindsets believe in the power of effort. They know that by working harder and trying, they can overcome difficulties. This is the kind of mindset we need to foster in our students. That way, they can overcome difficulties in math by putting in the effort necessary to learn to solve problems.

The good news is that Dweck’s research showed that “ educators play a key role in shaping students’ mindsets.” This is great news for teachers because it means that we can help students acquire more positive mindsets, and thus, succeed.

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How to Foster a Positive Mindset

To foster a positive or growth mindset, you have to teach kids some basic psychology. When children know and believe that their brain is a muscle, they begin to believe that they can learn new things. In addition, you can teach children basic study techniques that will help them overcome difficulties in math. For example, teachers might teach students to practice various math problems each night. Or, teachers may instruct children in skills and strategies to work around road blocks in their studying.

According to research cited by Dweck, the grades of students who were taught a growth mindset improved over those in a control group who didn’t get this instruction. In fact, the control group’s grades declined, while the experimental groups’ grades rebounded and improved.

There is good evidence that a positive growth mindset is necessary for success in math. So, make it an important part of your curriculum!

2. Move from Concrete to Abstract
Kids need concrete experiences before moving to an abstract understanding of math.

Why?
Have you ever walked into a classroom where students are busily at work with base-ten cubes or Montessori math beads? Or perhaps you’ve seen students using manipulatives to solve basic addition problems. Manipulatives in the math classroom are a big help to many students.

According to research, “mathematics achievement increases when manipulatives are put to good use.” In addition, “Many studies also suggest that manipulatives improve children’s long-term and short-term retention of math.”

By using manipulatives, children move from concrete examples toward more abstract thinking. In other words, using manipulatives provides a concrete opportunity to interact with math. Numbers are not symbols, but actual quantities in front of students. Then, slowly, as students solidify their knowledge, you can move students toward working in more abstract ways.

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How to Use Manipulatives
You can’t just hand students manipulatives and expect them to figure out how to use them. Instead, teachers must demonstrate how to use manipulatives effectively. Then, students must have ample time to practice any given concept using the manipulatives. Finally, once teachers are confident in their students’ abilities, a more abstract approach for that concept can be taken.

For instance, teachers might teach addition with regrouping using base-ten cubes. Students replace units for ten-rods as necessary when performing addition. After much practice, students can then be taught the traditional algorithm for solving addition problems with regrouping using just pencil and paper. In this way, students slowly move from concrete to abstract.

3. Make it Apply to the Real World
When teaching kids math, it must be useful outside of math class.

Why?
After math concepts are taught, children will need to be able to use them in the real world. For example, they might use mental math to add up the total cost of items in their grocery cart. Or, they may use multiplication to count a large number of grouped items. In professional settings, engineers, architects, and other professionals also make use of mathematical reasoning and concepts.

According to the National Council of Teachers of Math, standards indicate that “Students should have many experiences in creating problems from real-world activities.” This suggests that math should go beyond real-world word problems that have been concocted for math purposes. Instead, problems should be as messy and confusing as real-world modeling often is.

Mathematical modeling can be messy and have multiple answers. The question may be imprecise or have variable ways of solving. However, students must have the mathematical tools and reasoning to think about these problems and to come up with a solution. In carpentry, finances, and various other areas there are multiple ways of thinking about and solving problems. For example, imagine you’re building a shelf. You have five boards, two of which will be the sides and three of which will go in the middle. Will you arrange them so that the boards are spaced evenly? Will you leave a small amount of space at the bottom of the shelf? Or at the top? Are there taller books that need a wider space? These are all variables that could change depending on the situation and even on the carpenter. Children should have a chance to encounter these types of messy problems in the classroom with the support of a teacher.

How to Make Math Apply to the Real-World
In addition to word problems, children should have the chance to work on real-world problems and projects in which math modeling comes up. For example, have students build something together. Or, ask them to create and balance a budget. Get students involved in the mucky, messy process of using math to solve real problems. That way, students will get practice thinking in real situations that may come up later in their lives.

The Bottom Line on How to Teach Children Math
Teaching kids math is not an easy task. However, it is a very important one. By following these three rules, you can make sure that children in your care have the best chance of taking their math learning to the next level.

Do you have any golden rules you follow when teaching math? Tell us about them! Connect with us on social media to start a discussion.