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Boyd: Helping parents help their kids - or math anti-anxiety

Dec. 1, 2017 at 11:10 p.m.


Now that I've taught math in the classroom for 53 years (junior high, high school, college), I think I should be qualified to give some advice to parents of those who struggle with math. I, too, struggled during my early years and think I understand math anxiety. Help is available.

Difficulty with math does not necessarily mean your son or daughter is incapable of understanding it. It is important, however, to get help in finding those missing or weak areas and skills that exist. Each math course builds on the previous year, and one bad year will linger for a long time. Hard work, under proper guidance, can bring your student's skills back on track.

First, let us examine problems coming from that one bad year previous to your student's present math class. This problem year could have come in any of the following ways. Students could have:

A: Moved or changed schools several times during one year, thus interrupting continuity. For example, if you miss addition, subtraction, or multiplication, you are sure to have trouble with division).

B: Had a teacher who needed long-term leave, thus requiring several substitute teachers in one year.

C: Been sick to the extent they missed weeks or months of school.

D: Were placed in a class that required little work but had much fun.

E: Were placed in an overcrowded or unruly classroom.

F: Used calculators (excessively) in a math class before reaching the second semester of Algebra II; i.e., never learned their multiplication tables.

Second, in reading the above list we should not be searching for something or someone to blame. We just need to be aware that situations like these might have contributed to the problem. There could be other reasons for students to struggle other than that they are not capable of understanding math. We need to focus on a solution to the problem.

Third, what steps can you, the parent, take if your son or daughter struggles with math? You should immediately schedule a conference with their present math teacher and school counselor. This will give you an idea of where to start. You might mention A-F above if any of them apply, as this may also help the teacher and counselor better understand what your son or daughter is going through. Ask if the teacher is available before or after school to help. Obtain information (from teachers and counselors) regarding before or after school tutorials offered by the school. Practically all schools provide these tutorials. Finally, you could find a personal math tutor (via the counselor), who can zero in on the specific area of math that is weak or missing. Any one-on-one learning is an efficient way to help a student get back on track and understand those missing math concepts.

In my years of teaching math I have had numerous students fit the A-F descriptions mentioned above. Any one of these (and some not listed) could cause much frustration to students and parents.

Arithmetic is usually the missing key in solving these difficulties. Way too many students in my Algebra II and College Algebra classes never learned arithmetic. The use of common fractions, decimals, percents, and multiplying and dividing two digit numbers are arithmetic skills needed throughout high school and college. Some memory and drill must be used to master these skills. I think of algebra as "short cuts to arithmetic." Its purpose is to make computations easier, quicker, and more accurate! Arithmetic is very important in any math class.

— Wray Boyd, a Hallsville resident, is a retired educator. He taught at Longview High School and LeTourneau University.

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