For a lot of students Math is a nightmare and they just can’t wait to be done with it for life. I always tell them that they will never be done with Math, since we use it every single day. There is a level of Math though that few people ever use unless they get into a career like Engineering, Architect, or Math teacher. Even though it is not everyone’s favorite thing to do, it sure can be taught in more interesting ways than it sometimes is. Some parents/teachers really hate it themselves and never quite got it down themselves and now years later, after not using it, they have forgotten a lot of it and has to teach it and feel totally lost.
Math is like a second language and therefore needs to be taught as such, with constant repetition until it becomes second nature to the speaker. It is best taught by someone who absolutely love numbers and Math and will impart that love and passion to their student(s). You can employ lots of games and projects as well as hands-on manipulatives for a lot of it, whenever possible.
I believe Math should be broken down in the components & skills that make up higher Math. It starts out with a very strong emphasis on Place Value, which is essential to grasp and then Adding & Subtracting, plus things like reading clocks, counting money, etc. Once students master these concepts and Math facts, they move on to the Multiplication & Division class. Once they mastered those skills, which of course build on addition & subtraction, they are ready to move into Decimals, % and Fractions. After that you can introduce them to positive and negative numbers and some basic Geometry, Graphs, and cement all of that with word problems. Finally, they are ready for Pre-Algebra and higher Algebra and Geometry, which would be the next levels. Just understanding that progression already helps a lot to know where everything fits in place. Lots of curriculum teach a little of everything and don’t review enough for students to really master anything and so when they return to the same skillset the next year, they don’t remember it anymore and it is discouraging. Mastery is such a crucial aspect of Math instruction.
When I was in school, we learned Math more like parrots than thinking people and it was very confusing to most students and even though I loved the numbers and manipulating them, I didn’t have a clear understanding of what I was in fact doing. So, my goal in teaching Math, is to make sure students understand what they’re doing and why, because without that, they’ll feel lost and never be able to apply it to real life situations and put the puzzle pieces together.
Many parents don't feel comfortable enough teaching Math, especially if it gets to higher levels, so in those cases I recommend they use curriculum that comes with DVDs or online, e.g. Thinkwell, Teaching Textbooks, and others, and if that is also is not cutting it, a class at a learning center could do the trick to make sure students don't lose their love of numbers, for example at Learn Beyond The Book, there are classes for every level of Math described above. There are the applications of Math as well, so they also offer some creative classes that mix Literature with Math for those students who love stories, using the Sir Cumference series of books and others to demonstrate several Math concepts and do projects based on the story for the week. Another class that apply Math in a very important way is the Economics & Personal Finance class, titled “Where’s the Money?”. This class gives students all the skills they need to manage their own personal finances and even start a small business. They learn through projects, games (money & review) and lessons. Near the end of the semester, they plan to have an Entrepreneur Day and also a field trip to the Federal Reserve Bank planned.
For those students who might really not like Math, the Math through Logic & Games class might be a great fit, since they play games, but learn Math at the same time. The teacher, working on her PhD and a Mensa member is so fun and has as much fun as the kids with the games!
Even given all this, they also have Math tutors available to help with homework or for students who need a little extra practice during the week which can be scheduled by appointment.
Whether you sign up for a Math class or do it at home, please make sure your students master the Math skills before moving on. To me there is no such thing as Gr.5 Math or Gr.2 Math, because every student is at a different level with it and either acquired certain skills or not.
Patience and encouragement in teaching it is key to students’ success.