“Dyscalculia” is another word for a math disorder. It can apply to difficulties with calculations, visuo-spatial tasks, memory for math concepts, formulae, or other math-related tasks.
According to researchers, 6.5 percent of the school population in the United States has (Developmental) Dyscalculia, but many others have difficulty with, or an aversion towards, math. Below are five tips to help a child who is having trouble with math:
“I’m bad at math” is a common phrase uttered by children with difficulties with math, and is a common philosophy in North American math pedagogy: you either get it, or you don’t. Well, the Mindset Theory states that people who believe they have the potential to grow do better than those who think they are “good” or “bad” at math (i.e. having a fixed mindset).
This has been particularly well-documented in the areas of math and science. Praise, effort, and perseverance, rather than accomplishments, let your child realize that progressing in math is something that everyone can do. With some hard work, she can get there, too!
2. Hands-on Materials
Math often becomes tricky for students when the ideas become too abstract. Using hands-on examples of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, or percentages help students gain a better understanding of these tricky concepts. You can use any objects for the four basic operations.
Legos are an excellent tool for teaching various fraction concepts, calculations, and even statistics. Towers, dots, and blocks can all be used to make the abstract more concrete. Montessori math materials are also very hands-on, and with some initial supports, students feel confident and motivated through their use.
3. Real Life Examples
Math materials can also be found in real life, such as when dividing a cake into equal sections. “Why do we have to do this?” is a question children who dislike math often ask. Most math taught in the elementary and middle grades is useful for daily life (and high school math is essential for many jobs).
For young kids, let them help you count while you’re at the grocery store. For older students, verbalize when you are using math: Are you double checking a bill? Figuring out how much you save on a sale? Calculating gas mileage? Figuring out your jogging rate? Even if you use a calculator, it is important for students to see that the concepts they are learning are relevant.
Students with difficulties in math benefit from repetition, especially after a period of time has passed since they learned a concept. It almost appears as if they have freed up room for a new math idea by erasing one they had previously mastered. It is best if math curricula are cumulative, and “old” skills are consistently in use. Even if your child’s school does not have such a curriculum, you or the school can provide opportunities for “mixed practice,” or questions that allow her to apply diverse sets of skills in sequence. This will keep each skill sharp. Tell her to be patient, and be patient yourself! Some concepts take a long time to fully grasp.
Technology helps by providing repetition, but good technology also provides immediate, timely, and specific feedback, which helps students learn. In addition, it can be a great motivational tool! The websites IXL and Khan Academy are both known for their breadth of topics (arranged by subject and grade), and are good places to start for obtaining repetition and quick feedback for math skills.
Technology can also be used to review math concepts through videos and demonstrations: search Noodle for links to educational videos about any math concept, or peek at this list of Best Apps for Elementary Schoolers.
Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 246-263. Retrieved from Mindset Works.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House: New York.
Gross-Tsur, V., Manor, O. and Shalev, R. S. (1996). Developmental Dyscalculia: Prevalence and Demographic Features. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 38: 25–33. Retrieved from DMCN.
Montessori Primary Guide. Introduction to Mathematics. Retrieved from Info Montessori.
NCLD Editorial Team (2012). What is Dyscalculia? Retrieved from NCLD.
Zimmerman, A. (2013). Using LEGO to Build Math Concepts. Scholastic Online. Retrieved from Scholastic.