I have tutored math for more than 20 years now. So you can only guess how many parents have come to me for help because their kids are having trouble with math. To be honest, math is probably one of the biggest trouble spots for homeschoolers.
Parents will come to me and say things like “Mike can’t understand the algebra lessons,” “Amy is taking Algebra II and she can’t simplify these complex equations,” or “Jill just does not understand how to work with all these triangles and line intersections.”
There is always one thing I ask right off the bat: “How many days of the week does your child do math?”
Key No. 1: Math Is an Everyday Subject
When parents answer me, I discover that for the most part their kids rarely ever do it five times a week, and many times not even four. But math is for every day. I don’t mean just that you use it every day. I mean that students must do it every day they do school. You can’t become a math whiz if you don’t.
So every time I’m tutoring a struggling student, I help him or her find the real problem at hand. Above all, I make them promise to start doing math every day, and without fail those students who kept their promise have gone on to be excellent math students.
Doing math with your student every day means teaching a lesson, letting them do practice problems involving the new lesson and previous lessons, checking their work, and having them redo problems that were done incorrectly. It is a time-consuming process, but much quicker than the alternative.
One added bonus to parents committing to a plan like I have described is that they get better at math, too. When you are daily looking at these lessons and going over correct technique and answers with your children, you, too, are learning. Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Key No. 2: Math Is a Language
You can translate math into any language and vice versa. When I say to my daughter, “Get enough fruit for each family member to have one piece.” I’m asking her to do a math problem as well as help me pack lunch. She knows there are six of us and, if there are only four apples, she will need to pull out two peaches, as well. In math it would translate to “6 – 4 = 2” or “4 + X = 6.” Just like it takes repeated practice to learn that “agua” in Spanish means “water,” it takes repeated practice in math to remember that all forms of the verb “to be” means “equal to.”
That may have been a simple example, but the principle remains the same for all word problems. The SAT, a college readiness test required by most colleges for admission, is filled with word problems. If the student is fluent in the language of math, they will always understand exactly what is being described and what is being asked. That’s the only way to get the correct answers.
When students enter high school, they often believe that they can just whip out a calculator and they don’t need to memorize all the little facts that they spent so much time on as a child. The truth is that they won’t always have a calculator. It is also not nearly as fast as their own brains are. The SAT is a timed test. Students need to shave time off each problem to ensure they can complete the test. Our local college wouldn’t even let the students use a scientific calculator during their placement test for dual enrollment. If they didn’t remember that sin30° = 0.5, they got some problems wrong, which they would have known how to solve otherwise.
2 Keys + Perseverance = Success!
I’ve heard stories of people trying to learn to speak Chinese. They thought they were speaking correctly, but said things that were quite different than they had intended. Chinese is very different than English. Every detail is important to convey the correct meaning. Math is the same way. Practicing every day keeps the material fresh and clear. If you do math every day, you probably won’t need to reteach lessons because the student forgot how to do the new skills. If you let them do all five lessons for the week on the same day, you will probably have to repeat many lessons week after week. Details get forgotten easily in less than a week.
High school students who want to go to college need to complete four to five years of math. There is no time to slack off. The SAT Test covers Algebra I and II, Geometry, and Trigonometry. If a student starts taking this test in their junior year they have no time to play around. The good news is that each math course builds on the previous one.
When your student is doing a trigonometry problem with you in a Precalculus class their junior year, they are using skills they learned in Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. If they have been doing their math work every school day for four years, then they have been preparing for that test all that time. Now that’s a successful math student!
Laura Nolette, married for 26 years to her beloved Donald, is a homeschooling mother of four fantastic children. She has worked with computers for even more years while raising her children in a Christ-centered home. Laura plays the bass and the flute on the worship team. Her own passion for learning has led her to teach Math, French, Science, Government, Computers, Art, and Music to her own children and many other students.