Math Takes Time to Conquer

Oct 3, 2022 | Littleton

Give Your Child the Gift of Time to Learn Math

What if your Work was Structured like Math in the Typical Classroom?
Imagine you are at work and your boss just assigned you and your team a difficult task. You take a deep breath and give yourself a little pep talk. You remember that you accomplished something just as complicated last year. It took you a few late nights but with the help of your colleagues, your hard work, and perseverance, you ended up with a product you were proud of.

Now your boss says, “You will be given one hour per day for a week to work on this task. If at the end of one week you do not have the task completed you will get a poor evaluation. Then you will be given another, equally difficult task that builds upon your success of first task. We will continue on adding task upon task for the next 13 years.”

You think, if you successfully complete each task, you will have no problem. But if you miss a few days of work or your concentration lapses a bit, you may not successfully complete a task. Or what if one task just takes more than five hours to complete? Then every task after that will get more and more difficult because each task builds on the success of the previous ones. You remember playing the game Jenga™ and how a tower can get taller and taller but weaker and weaker. Eventually the whole tower falls down.Now you don’t feel motivated to start the first task to begin with. Would you stay at your job?

How is this Scenario Like School?
By the time a child in Littleton enters 2nd grade they have been in school for about 70 weeks. A typical math period lasts for one hour per day. In these 70 weeks these 5, 6, and 7 year-olds must master the foundational math skills they will use for the rest of their school careers. If they do not get a solid understanding of rote counting forward and backward in kindergarten, addition and subtraction in first grade will be almost impossible. What happens when children struggling to add and subtract move on to second grade and get a lesson in adding and subtracting 3 digit numbers with “regrouping” or “carrying and borrowing?” How long until these precious children throw their chubby little hands up in despair?

A School’s Design Limits its Ability to Help Struggling Children Catch-Up
Teachers do their best to address the needs of every student at each child’s level. This practice is called differentiating instruction and it is critical to the growth of every child no matter whether they are struggling, on-grade level, or accelerated. But consider the scenario of one teacher working with 30 unique learners using a math curriculum provided by the district. The math curriculum probably progresses at the appropriate pace for 20 of the 30 kids. What happens to the 5 that need extra time and instruction to process each skill? They fall farther and farther behind the standard math curriculum. And the kids who need less time start getting bored. Then consider elementary teachers are typically tasked with not only instructing math but also reading, writing, social studies, spelling, science and sometimes computers. Teachers do their best to differentiate instruction and adjust their instruction, but meeting the instructional needs of every child, in all subjects, every moment of the school day, is nearly impossible in the traditional school design.

Set Kids up for Success, not Failure
Difficult math concepts require hard work and time to understand. Complex, multi-step math problems require a child to concentrate and try several approaches. Giving kids time to really attack problems and try different approaches to concepts is critical to deep comprehension.  When they fully understand one foundational concept they are prepared to try more rigorous and complex problem solving skills. Then they advance to more abstract methods. Finally, they can start learning a new skill that builds on the previous skills.

In a classroom with 25-30 children, each working at their own pace, some of these steps get condensed or skipped over entirely. The result is that many kids, even children who grasp math concepts quickly, end up with gaps in their understanding.  We call this “Swiss cheese math understanding” because it is full of holes.

At Mathnasium of Littleton we are structured differently than the typical classroom. Each individual child sets the pace for their own instruction. We keep trying different approaches until we find the approach that works for each child.  A child must show mastery in a concept before another concept is introduced. Our structured curriculum and individualized instruction prepares children for success. Then, instead of having a wobbly Jenga™ tower or Swiss cheese understanding, students have a solid foundation.

Our Method for Success
Step 1. Give a comprehensive, no obligation assessment to identify any learning gaps and areas of strength.
Step 2. Create a customized plan of study with topics based on the results of the assessment.
Step 3. Instruct each child in the areas where they are needing growth.
Step 4. Caring, Mathnasium-trained instructors model several ways to approach the problems in a concept and check for understanding along the way.
Step 5. The whole team supports the child as they work, correcting and adapting the pace and instruction, as necessary.
Step 6. Assign more complex problems once foundational concepts are mastered and let the child work independently for a short period of time. We let the children struggle (for a bit). This time to struggle is important to children's’ confidence and degree of mastery for several reasons:

  •   When they are successful they have sense of pride and completion
  •  Working it out independently gives them deeper understanding.  
  •  The slight frustration improves recall for the future.

Step 7. Test for mastery
Step 8. Adjust customized learning plan to target new areas.

Give your children the gift of time to really wrestle with math in a deep and meaningful way.

Call (303) 979-9077 to learn more about our math programs. Ask for Suzie.