Focus on Math

Helping children become mathematicians!

What Do I Do When My Kids Don’t Get the Math? March 9, 2012

Thanks to all of the participants my session at the BCTF’s New Teachers’ Conference in Richmond, BC last weekend. The session, “What Do I Do When My Kids Don’t Get the Math?“, was all about helping kids make sense of mathematics by exploring and using a variety of strategies to do the four main math operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). Remember, it is not that the algorithms (or “standard” ways of doing things) are in and of themselves “bad”, it is just that students often do not make meaningful connections to the “why” of the underlying mathematics. They end up following rules that have no meaning and do not make sense (hmmmm… refer to my blog post about suspended sense making).

Understanding is all about meaningful connections, which I thought was depicted in the picture seen here. No, it is not some piece of modern art, but a picture of a section of the carpet of the Radisson Hotel there in Richmond where the conference was held last week. As I sat working at the table sponsored by the BC Association of Mathematics Teachers, I really looked at the floor and decided that the carpet gave a great visual representation of the dendritic connections in the brain that come into play when we understand something. This is what we need out students’ brains to be doing in math!!
Allow me “pitch” the mathematical processes again. I still believe that understanding “lives” in the processes, and that if we will engage students in these processes regularly, they cannot help but build mathematical understanding. Here in BC, the curriculum documents lists these seven processes and tie them to every single math outcome K-12!!

  • Communication
  • Connections (C)
  • Mental Math & Estimation (ME)
  • Problem Solving (PS)
  • Reasoning (R)
  • Technology (T)
  • Visualization (V)

If you live outside BC, then I recommend digging into the processes as listed in the documents of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), which are these:

  • Communication
  • Connections
  • Problem Solving
  • Reasoning & Proof
  • Representation

So, if you construct learning experiences for your students that get them involved these processes, they will begin to build understanding! It won’t happen in a flash, but if you persist it will happen!

Mathematically yours,


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