Helping with maths homework

Tips to get you through

teaching at home

First, breathe. Relax. You know how to do maths. 

Maths equations

Wait! What is that example trying to do? 

Yes, the way maths is taught today may be different from how you remember being taught or how you do maths, but, addition is still addition. So what’s going on?

For many decades (probably longer), mathematics was taught algorithmically. Most operations were taught as a rote series of steps. 

You remember. 27 + 34. Start by adding 7 plus 4, put down the 1 and carry the 1. Then move and add 2 and 3 to get 5, plus the one you carried makes 6. Final answer, 61. Do you know what it means to carry the one? What are you carrying? Why are you carrying it? Is it tired?

What we realised is that while many of us could do the maths, we didn’t really know why we were doing what we were doing. 

Here’s another example. When you divide fractions, you invert the second and multiply. 

1/3 ÷ 1/5 = 1/3 x 5/1 = 5/3 = 1 - 2/3. 

What? Does that even make sense to you? You divide 1/3 and you get a number greater than 1? But, hey, we know how to invert and multiply!

So, to help students to understand the maths, to feel empowered to be able to do maths, and to be encouraged to continue to study maths, we realised while algorithms had their place, conceptual understanding of what you were doing and why is more important. 

The 'new' maths help students to feel power over numbers, to wrap their heads around all the patterns that exist when we do maths, and to be able to logically reason their way through problems.

While you may not know exactly how to do what your child is doing, you do, indeed, know how to help them find the answer.

Boy and father study together.

The beauty of the 'new' maths is that students learn there is not just one way to do something. 

100 might be represented as one hundred or ten tens or a hundred ones or nine tens and 10 ones – these are all still 100. 

But back to the original concern – what do you do?

  1. Remember you do know how to do basic mathematics.  You use it every day!
  2. Ask your child to redo the problem as far as they can – see if you can figure out where the problem with completing the problem lies. You may or may not be able to see the hurdle.
  3. See if you can figure out how the concept is being taught to your child (look over their book or sheets or…).  If you can follow along, great.  Go ahead and explain it in that way.  If you can’t, show them how to solve the problem the way you know how to do it!  Remind them there are many ways to solve problems and you can show them one way. Do go step by step through what you are doing (conceptual understanding, remember) best as you can!
  4. Don’t get frustrated – and if you do, don’t bad mouth the mathematics! We don’t want for our children to not like maths or think it’s something most people can’t do.
  5. If you are 'lost' yourself, isn’t Google wonderful?  You and your child can google how to do it or go to Khan Academy and sit and watch a short video together, or go to learning@home and see if there’s a video or lesson plan posted there to lead you through the concept.
Or, say, "I know a good way to learn some other maths, and go into the kitchen and bake some cookies together"!