Helping my daughter love math this summer
June 21, 2011 8:42 AM   Subscribe

My ten-year-old daughter is entering the gifted and talented program and she is a little anxious about her math skills.

She test at 85% of everyone in her upcoming group, but she has been worried about math the previous year. So I guess I have two questions:

1. What's the best way to help her with her math over the next ten weeks?

2. Is there some kind of fun kids math site that will test her and let her level up as she moves from one skill to each other?

3. At the very least, what are some healthy ways to motivate her to practice her multiplication skills this summer? I think that would help the most.

I hope this doesn't devolve into a debate about tiger mom parenting styles.
posted by mecran01 to Education (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Check out the Khan Academy.
posted by Homo economicus at 8:49 AM on June 21, 2011 [9 favorites]

I had a very similar situation - my entry into the "gifted" program meant me actually skipping learning multiplication in school. This was in the 3rd grade.

My mother made me piles of flash cards and I used them with her and on my own for several weeks. Started with simple one digit x one digit ones, moved up to more difficult ones once that was down pat.

Later on, I was in the "Math League."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:49 AM on June 21, 2011

What's the best way to help her with her math over the next ten weeks?

She's 10 years old, so math isn't very abstract-- there is a specific set of skills she needs to master. The way to handle this is to do lots of workbooks until the skills become second nature, which I assume at her age are about long division, decimals, times tables, and fractions.

This is all about practice, practice, practice.
posted by deanc at 8:50 AM on June 21, 2011

She's just on the cusp of the age group for this book, but I've heard the book Math Doesn't Suck and other books by Danica McKellar are aimed at boosting girls' confidence in math. GirlStart is aimed at encouraging math and science interest in girls.
posted by goggie at 8:53 AM on June 21, 2011

Just reiterating what other people say: Practice, practice, practice. Also, heavy on the parental praise when she does well. FunBrain has some neat interactive games that she might enjoy, and it goes up to grade 8, so if it's a little below her level, she can advance on her own. You might also considering taking her to a teacher's shop (in St. Louis, we have Bradburn's) and letting her pick out some flashcards or workbooks. And awesome stickers when she does well on things!

This sounds exactly like me when I was 10 years old - I started G&T when I was in 4th grade, I was strong in most everything, but not quite as strong in math. I got better in math, and G&T ended up being one of the best things that happened to me. I genuinely hope that her experiences are as positive as mine were!
posted by honeybee413 at 8:54 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We're actually taking her out of immersive spanish and putting her in G&T primarily because we think she'll have a better social experience in G&T. It really helped my son to be surrounded by kids who also loved legos, reading and stuff that is considered "nerdy" by the other kids. Plus, she's not really challenged outside of the language skills. The immersion program is used (cleverly, in my opinion) to help scaffold some of the non-native speakers in the school boundaries.

But she has been with these kids for a few years now, and her height, smarts and relative maturity have kept her at a distance, perhaps. I saw her trying to be friendly with her classmates after a large group activity and it was clear that they were polite but not interested. It was heartbreaking. She's not especially weird or rude--that prize goes to our sweet little aspie boy!

But back to math. We will spend time with her using flashcards and workbooks for 20 minutes a day for starters. There's a homeschooling place with workbooks up the street so I can grab something there too.

Here's another idea that I will probably not follow up on: She gets coded messages in the mail, sort of an Alternate Reality Game. Leveling up requires completing certain math and multiplication tasks, that lead her to the next piece of the puzzle and a prize of some sort.
posted by mecran01 at 9:07 AM on June 21, 2011

Response by poster: We also have a copy of Timez Attack, but I don't think she is into the whole dungeon theme. She has her own iPod touch and loves games where you compulsively feed virtual pets. Someone should combine one of those programs with math tutelage and make a MILLION DOLLARS.
posted by mecran01 at 9:08 AM on June 21, 2011

Try this japanese abacus:
posted by empath at 9:08 AM on June 21, 2011

I'd be careful about the Danica McKellar books. I have both of them, and while they may help some girls get more confidence, they are really kind of condescending and go into a lot of examples about boys, makeup, fashion, etc. I imagine if your daughter were genderqueer (or even just a bit tomboyish), these books would actually end up hurting her psychologically.

Otherwise, I suggest Khan Academy and simple drilling of things like times tables. Although she is ten, she's not too young to learn calculus or discrete math (although I doubt that is what her gifted classes would be up to).
posted by King Bee at 9:15 AM on June 21, 2011

She has her own iPod touch? Aren't there, like, billions of math learning apps for that? I don't know specifics, but I imagine that it wouldn't be difficult to find a well-reviewed program for that.

Also, I really like the murderous maths series, but that's more about learning/starting to learn the big concepts of math, the more advanced ones, rather than specific things like multiplication.

I went from one 'gifted' program to a different, more advanced one between second and third grade. I entirely missed long multiplication but, as I remember, I just tried to hide my noncomprehension and it started to make sense after a while. She'll be fine!
posted by R a c h e l at 9:22 AM on June 21, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, there are a ton of apps and I've purchased a couple. I guess this is a question about getting my daughter to do something that is good for her on a consistent basis, in a structured way.

I think she'll be fine too, but that *she'll* feel better and more confident if she consistently works on this over the summer.
posted by mecran01 at 9:25 AM on June 21, 2011

No current advice for math learning, but moving forward, as she goes into the G&T be very supportive of her and don't be afraid to "force" her to stay in it for a year. Anecdotally, I was in a reading-only G&T program in 4th grade and added math in 5th grade when they decided kids could participate in both. As I got into it I hated it, thought I was failing, and wanted to quit. My reading teacher convinced my parents to force me to stick with it, and now nearly two decades later I'm an engineer (who actually quite enjoys math) and managed the scholarships, college acceptances, internships, etc that I did in large part because I managed to get on that advanced math track, which is becoming critical for people applying to competitive STEM programs. It may not be a smooth transition for her, but do everything you can to keep her in it -- delaying advanced math courses for too long puts her at a disadvantage if she does discover she loves it later in her educational career.
posted by olinerd at 9:34 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To run against the grain slightly - is this an issue of legitimate anxiety to address with more competency or a confidence issue to be addressed in some other way? By which I mean, if she's testing well already is it going to help to get her more practice or will this be harmless or potentially counter-productive (because she challenges herself further and doesn't overcome the anxiety)?

Perhaps mixing in some one-on-one work with her using grade-appropriate materials where she teaches you will help her realize the command she has of the material. Or helping younger kids with lower-level math. Address the confidence & realization of competency as well as allowing her to learn more.
posted by phearlez at 9:36 AM on June 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would check with the G&T teacher. Most G&T programs are NOT about advanced math and language arts. They should be about encouraging higher level thinking skills - focusing on problem solving and creativity.

Maybe if your daughter understands that she's not going to be judged on being the fastest mathematician in her class, but on how she uses her brain - she won't be so anxious.

You might also let her know that if she does develop her creativity and problem solving skills, things like math will seem (and actually be) much easier for her...
posted by NoDef at 9:38 AM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

For 3, something that's helped me even as an adult is try compute in my head how much X% of something is when I go shopping or when computing the tip. The sheer repetition made me develop some tricks for quickly computing percentages, and now I can mentally compute 15% or 20% faster than using a calculator. The repetition made me see certain relationships and patterns in the computation process.

If you take your daughter shopping with you, just have her compute how much something that has a "20% off" sign actually costs. Or if there's a sale on 8oz containers of yogurt, have her compute whether it's cheaper to buy 6 or the 8 oz containers or buy the 48 oz container. Or is "Buy 1 Get 1 Free!" actually a good deal? etc. etc.
posted by needled at 9:46 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a very similar situation - my entry into the "gifted" program meant me actually skipping learning multiplication in school. This was in the 3rd grade.

Oh my gosh, Threeway Handshake - you just opened a door of understanding for me that has been closed lo these many years. I have understood all my life that I somehow missed the part of elementary school where we learned multiplication. All this time, I have assumed that it was that I was inattentive and easily distracted and that I just somehow wasn't paying attention and missed it. But that explanation has never fully satisfied me (or it has disturbed me) because it would mean that I was totally spaced out for, I don't know, weeks? But now, thinking back, I realize that I had the exact same experience that you did: I was put in the "gifted" program starting in the 3rd grade and taken out of regular class for hours at a time every day. So (I'm guessing) I didn't miss multiplication because I was spacing out! Yay!

That said, I never did learn to do math and have had to compensate for it in other ways my whole life. Curses.
posted by The World Famous at 9:53 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I recently saw something about this company which makes educational software and is running a summer challenge to help kids from losing what they learned over the summer. Fun, plus helping hone math skills = win!
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:10 AM on June 21, 2011

FWIW, this book (by a neuroscientist who specializes in mathematical cognition) presents a lot of persuasive research showing that there's no such thing as being inherently "good" or "bad" at math-- it's just that since mathematical understanding is very cumulative, it's easy for someone who misses a step early on to get caught in a vicious cycle of incomprehension/anxiety/aversion and end up defining themselves as "just not a math person." So you might be especially careful to head off any signs that your daughter is integrating this into her identity, or avoiding math on purpose because she's not comfortable with it.

The book also talks some about how much more effective mathematical learning is when it can be "situated" in terms that connect to a student's existing intuitive understandings about quantity and number in real life. Do you, or does your daughter, have any hobbies or activities that might be expanded this summer to include a practical arithmetic component? For instance, could you develop a habit of taking her to the grocery store and getting her to estimate the bill in her head? Or start some sort of joint construction or craft project that'd involve regular multiplying to figure out materials or budgetary requirements? In general, I'd think that computer drill is going to be a lot more effective when it's supplemented with lots of concrete practice, preferably in the course of other activities that are also fun.
posted by Bardolph at 10:15 AM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

As a former Smart Kid (TM), I would stress that for a kid who is intuitively very good at reading and language, it was hard for me to understand that not only I, but everyone else really, had to actually work at math - and even if it was easier for some people, it was OKAY if being only decent at math was the product of hard work on my part.

It's natural to want to do the things you are good at and that come easily, but it can be more rewarding to do things that require more effort - it's a hard concept at that age but I don't want anyone who doesn't have to ending up in tears over Alegbra II and Calculus (which, honestly, I never mastered, and feel sort of stupid about, but whatever).
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:25 AM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would stress that for a kid who is intuitively very good at reading and language, it was hard for me to understand that not only I, but everyone else really, had to actually work at math - and even if it was easier for some people, it was OKAY if being only decent at math was the product of hard work on my part.

Me too. When in secondary school I managed to go for years getting reasonable passes in maths tests by completely failing the algebra bit (which would have required me to actually practice) and acing the geometry bit, which I could grasp and get right intuitively...this worked fine for a few years until we got to the point where I was actually supposed to have understood all the algebra to understand what I was supposed to learn at that point...
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:36 AM on June 21, 2011

Best answer: You might find some useful insights in Carol Dweck's Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development (Essays in Social Psychology).

In short: It can be difficult for kids to transition from a school setting where they can do the work without effort to one where effort is required. They need to learn that it's okay and even helpful to get problems wrong and then try again and get them right. They need to learn that it's okay for things not to be easy and it doesn't mean that they're dumb, and that they can (and will) improve with effort. You can instill this attitude both through the language you use with her and through any practice work or games you give her.
posted by alms at 10:58 AM on June 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Play games that involve quantitative multiplication and estimation. Yahtzee will cover a good chunk of the multiplication table, and perhaps a bit more if you mod the rules to use more dice or 10-sided dice. Card games like contract bridge (four players) or honeymoon bridge (two players) can be useful as well. They provide good opportunities to practice math problem solving in a context that's fun.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:51 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

The homeschooling place near you should have Saxon Math books - they are really useful for drilling math skills, and have lots of extra review for each thing, very useful for specific things that your daughter wants to build confidence about, if often less than entertaining. Might also have the Family Math books, which are less directly instructional and more interesting / fun - they're mostly full of math games.

I agree completely with alms above and would add that you shouldn't assume that your daughter will be treated the same way your son was in this gifted program - 'nerdy' preoccupations like math and legos are way more socially acceptable for boys than girls, and 'gifted' boys are expected to be good at math.The message that 'nerdy' girls would be better off focusing on other interests is pretty all-pervasive - gifted girls are supposed to write well, focus on English and history, and perhaps grow up to be lawyers or work in HR.

'Gifted' boys who find math difficult at first are encouraged to work at it, but too often 'gifted' girls who find math difficult at first are given the message that it doesn't matter as long as the homework is neatly done and handed in on time. When your daughter struggles with a concept, it's still going to be up to you to motivate her to work hard at mastering it herself - even the best intentioned teacher is more than likely to just give her the answer and have her copy it down neatly, unfortunately.
posted by Wylla at 2:10 PM on June 21, 2011

If you have a little of your own math anxiety, be very careful about passing it on to your daughter. Kids pick up on what's expected of them, and if you expect her to have trouble with math then it's likely she actually will. If you tell her often that you KNOW she'll do great if she studies hard, then she'll do that too.

And everyone has about the same ability to do basic algebra, it's not until you get into college math that some people have to work significantly harder than others.
posted by miyabo at 3:24 PM on June 21, 2011

You want to work to reduce the stereotype threat, not just drill your daughter with maths, from the sound of it.
posted by thatdawnperson at 12:45 PM on June 22, 2011

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