I have never been excellent in math. I used to dislike it immensely…until I started homeschooling.
When you teach something, you have to like it or the negativity comes out in your teaching. If a teacher is not passionate or excited about what she is teaching, then her student won’t be either.
There was a point in Elijah’s homeschooling when he didn’t like math. He said he didn’t like it because it was hard. And I realized it wasn’t his fault. It was mine. I had not taken the time to make math come alive for him. So, I made it my mission to get him to love math. It started back when he was in pre-school.
From sorting, to ordering, to patterns, to counting, to simple addition and subtraction, I used toys like marbles, dinosaurs, cars and the like to make math real and tangible. I also explained how math is necessary for everyday things, like knowing how much you weigh, how tall you are growing, how to handle money, etc.
One of the things I had to change in myself was my own attitude toward math. Would you believe that I actually got very excited about PRE-SCHOOL math?! Since I was starting from the beginning with Elijah, my own concept and experience with math was turning out to be fun!
It’s been almost 6 years since I introduced math to Elijah. And, by God’s grace, Elijah has gotten be really good at math. During his last Standardized Achievement Test, he scored in the 98th percentile for his age.
It wasn’t because I became an expert math teacher. In fact, I’m just beginning to get the hang of multiplication and division again! But guess what? Elijah does not need me to be an expert math teacher. He needs me to learn alongside him, to experience math with him, and to encourage him. He needs to be inspired to learn.
Right now, Elijah is finishing his 2nd grade. Since we are using Singapore Math, I decided to supplement with Primary Mathematics’ Challenging Word Problems (U.S. Edition) for level 2 so that he experiences math applied to real life. I really believe that word problems are one of the best ways to encourage critical thinking for math.
It’s just 2nd grade math but it really stretches Elijah’s capacities because he has to think through several steps to get the answer. Okay, it even stretches my mental faculties, too! For example, if line A is twice the length of line C which is 30 inches long, and line B is twice the length of line A, and line C and line D are equal to 70, which line is the longest and what is the total length of all the lines? Most of the problems in the book require you to come up with more than one equation in order to solve for the answers.
The approach that has worked for Elijah has been the “teamwork approach.” Instead of plopping the work in front of him so he can solve the problems on his own, I make it a social activity. We discuss each problem and I let him talk through the solutions out loud. I laugh with him, encourage him, challenge him, struggle through a problem with him, and rejoice with him when he gets the right answer. At times, I also ask him leading questions to assist his thought process. I don’t do this for every single problem, but he knows that I am there beside him, almost like we are classmates.
About two days ago we came across a problem that I was kind of stumped by. To myself, I was like, “What?! Is this Algebra?! Oh no! I’m not ready for this.” (Imagine what it’s going to be like for me when my kids are going through Calculus?!) Well, I sneaked a peek at the answer key. This really upset Elijah. In fact, he almost cried! I was shocked. When I asked him why he was upset, he said, “Well now you won’t do the math problem together with me because you already know the answer.” He was totally disappointed. I thought it was a bit irrational until I started to think through the why. My theory was that he didn’t want me to act like a teacher who knew the answer before he did. He wanted me to experience the problem solving process with him. He wanted it to be an adventure we shared together.
My theory was confirmed when I asked him recently, “What do you like about math?” To which he replied, “We get to do math together.”
I don’t know if your child is like Elijah who is somewhat of a social learner. You may have one that is like Edan, my second son, who tells me “I know it, I know it,” and this means that I’m not supposed to hover around him when it comes to math. Or you may have one that is like Titus, my third, who still needs to play and use his hands to experience math.
You will have to discover what kind of teacher your child needs you to be. You do not have to be an expert at a subject to be a good teacher to your child. (Sometimes, I think my son is way smarter than I am and he is only turning 8! It’s humbling.)
Don’t aim to be a teacher who is an expert at subject matter. It is far more superior to be a teacher who is willing to adjust her teaching style and methods to make the learning process enjoyable and rewarding for her student. It is this kind of teacher that inspires the love and hunger for learning — the kind of teacher our children need us to be.