Helping Students Understand Math Concepts Without Feeling Discouraged
As cliche as it is, "practice makes perfect". In order for students to grasp a concept and feel competent in it, a student must be given opportunities to use the concept over and over again. Teachers must make effort to model the concepts they expect their students to know, such that the concept is familiar when it comes time to use it. If a teacher feels a student is struggling, he/she can suggest practice tools and activities for students to use. For example, the child struggling with skip-counting could use an animated number line, using software like the "Geometer's Sketchpad" to practice this skill. In addition, teacher's should help students recognize patterns when analyzing numbers. This is a strategy that can be very beneficial, especially for younger students, since a pattern is sometimes easy to recognize than an entire concept. Teacher's can also use subitizing--a method to determine how many are in a group without specifically counting each of them. This can be done through recognition of arrangements or configurations of certain numbers. For example; the numbers 1-5 can be easily spotted if arranged similar to the way dice are arranged. When a child sees a grouping of items arranged in a similar way that they've seen on dice, they may immediately recognize the number of items present in the grouping. Giving students referents and benchmarks can also be used as a strategy to help students understand certain concepts, since children tend to learn best when they can relate values to something that is well understood. This means, teachers should try to be creative in creating problem-solving questions, such that the children feel engaged and excited to participate. For example, when teaching one-to-one correspondence to a child who loves hockey, you may want to create a hockey-type situation. Below is an example of how to help that child understand the one-to-one correspondence. "Suppose we are at a hockey game. The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing the Buffalo Sabres. How many players are on the ice at once, not including the goalie? (5 players). If the Toronto Maple Leafs have 5 players on the ice, how many players do you think the Buffalo Sabres have on the ice? (5 players). Now, suppose Buffalo was to get a penalty, taking one man off the ice and putting him into the penalty box. How many players would the Sabres have on the ice now? (4 players). This means that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be have 5 players on the ice and Buffalo will only have 4 players on the ice. Which team has more players? (Toronto Maple Leafs) Why? (Because they have a powerplay and have one extra man playing on the ice). So which team has the greater number of players? (Toronto Maple Leafs because 5 is greater than 4)." **The teacher may even want to draw this for the student to show a visual representation of the concept being taught. Teachers can and should think outside the box. For example, teaching students easy-to-remember songs that can help them with their problem-solving or creating visual aids in the classroom (such as having a number line and place values chart always visible in the classroom). I remember being in calculus and learning a song about functions. This song helped me understand the concept and feel more confident about my math skills. When I struggled, I would review the song in my head and be able to proceed. Incorporating Bringing drama into the math class can also be beneficial for children who like to role-play and are more hands-on. There are countless strategies that can and should be used to help students understand and feel more confident in their math skills. Teacher's should be responsible for creating an open, encouraging and accepting environment that children feel comfortable sharing and participating, even if they don't get the correct answer. Teachers must remember that math is not just the writing down of numbers and numeral solutions, it is also the use of problem solving and communication. A teacher should be communicating with their students to understand their struggles, problem solving techniques and their thought processes to better understand which strategies to use in assisting that child. Teachers should always be conscious of how to make the lesson applicable to all types of learners; kinesthetic, visual and auditory learners. I finish by repeating what I mentioned before; "Practice makes perfect". Give children opportunity to practice the skills. It is through experience and practice that students learn number sense.