## Sunday, August 10, 2008

### Building a Solid Math Foundation

Building a Solid Math Foundation

A solid math foundation is vital for children to succeed. Without solid math skills, children will probably have a lot of trouble in school and afterwards.
Students with weak basic math skills find the subject increasingly confusing and difficult (and get poor grades). You might notice that your child starts to develop math anxiety. When a child develops a solid math foundation, you'll be amazed at how the stress caused by poor math skills disappears. You might even hear your child say that math is fun!
Building a solid foundation in math requires a systematic approach. Too many children do not get the broad introduction and ongoing practice that builds confidence and deep understanding. The primary mistakes that parents make in teaching/coaching math are:
having too narrow a focus. Parents tend to overemphasize arithmetic and overlook the other math areas.
reviewing math concepts out of sequence.
This article will discuss what is an adequately broad approach to teaching math and present how Time4Learning, an online learning system, provides such a foundation for each grade.
A strong math elementary math curriculum teaches these five math strands (yes, there are many other ways of grouping these areas into as few as four and as many as eight different areas but we like this approach): * Number Sense and Operations - Arithmetic and place value.
* Algebra - From the youngest age, learning to recognize patterns and sets ("pick the small red fish") creates the groundwork for working with unknowns and algebraic variables. * Geometry and Spatial Sense - When children build on their knowledge of basic shapes, they increase their ability to reason spatially, read maps, visualize objects in space, and eventually use geometry to solve problems.

* Measurement - Learning how to measure and compare is an important life skill that encompasses the concepts of length, weight, temperature, capacity, time, and money.
* Data Analysis and Probability - Using charts, tables, and graphs will help children learn to share and organize information about the world around them.
What is Time4Learning?
Time4Learning.com is an online subscription site popular for homeschooling, afterschool, and summer use. As an example, let’s survey how this curriculum builds a a broad math foundation through the shifting it’s focus among these diverse math strands.
Foundation Building - PreSchool and Kindergarten Math –
The preschool program combines language arts and preschool math into one integrated learning sequence. It starts with the basics such as following simple instructions given verbally by cartoon characters such as "Click on the Crayon". Once the children are interacting successfully, they will learn through a fun set of learning games the basic concepts such as similar and different, quantity, sequence, comparisons, and shapes. Notice that the focus is on learning about sets and features which is pre-algebra. The features and patterns get more complicated and basic geometry is introduced. Then at the end of preschool and in the kindergarten math program, the concepts of comparative quantity and greater and less than are introduced. The focus is not on the simple question of having the kids learn to count up to ten although it is taught.

The Basics of Arithmetic – First to Third Grade Math –
Not Just Arithmetic – Fourth and Fifth Grade Math –
The major math strands for the fourth grade math curriculum are number sense and operations, algebra, geometry and spatial sense, measurement, and data analysis and probability. This year they are expected to know basic multiplication and division. They will recognize that two fractions are equivalent or non-equivalent and learn to add and subtract fractions using drawings, story problems and algorithms. During fourth grade, math students use a wide variety of tools and procedures to measure length, area, volume, and perimeter. They investigate angle measures, learning about the common angles of 45°, 90°, and 180° (straight angle). They'll learn to use these angles as reference for measurement of other angles. During fifth grade math, students master the concepts and mechanics of multiplication and division including the commutative, associative and distributive properties. They are expected to learn to factor and recognize prime numbers to 100 and recognize squares. Fifth grade math students are taught to find factors of numbers including the rules of divisibility and to determine if they are prime or composite. They express whole numbers as products of prime factors and determine the greatest common factor or the least common multiple of two numbers up to 100 or more. In fifth grade they multiply by powers of 10, demonstrating patterns. They identify and apply rules of divisibility for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10, and use models to identify perfect squares to 144.
Sixth to Eight Grade Math – More sophisticated geometry, problems, and algebra
In sixth grade math, students build on what they learned in fifth grade math, which led them to the decimal base-10 number system, finding factors of numbers to 100, and multiplication of decimals to hundredths. They compare decimals to fractions, and add, subtract, multiply and divide decimals and fractions. It will be an exciting year full of new, complex math concepts. During seventh grade math children learn about decimals, percents, exponents, scientific notation, ratios, and square roots. Seventh grade math opens them up to a greater understanding of measurement techniques, geometry and algebraic thinking. In eighth grade math, students work with positive and negative numbers, exponents, and the order of operations, as well as scientific and standard notation. They learn more about working with whole numbers, fractions, mixed numbers, decimals, and integers.

Summary
There are many successful approaches to curriculum from hands-on applied mathematics to strict standards-based education. However, all the best curriculum take a broad approach to the math curriculum and struggle to provide a coherent sequence with ongoing review and reinforcement of previously-learned skills and concepts. Time4Learning's math curriculum provides a good example of how to broadly develop skills through the elementary and middle school years.