Math Strategies for Elementary School Students

math boy manip

Understanding How Children Learn
When teaching math to kids, it is important to follow the natural progression of how they learn best. When a child is learning language, he first learns the name on an object by someone else pointing to it or touching it and saying the name. For example, the parent points to and touches the family dog while saying “doggy.” After the parent does this so many times, the child begins to identify the dog, pointing to it on his own and saying “doggy.” As the child grows, he begins to form a mental picture in his mind of a dog. He learns to draw a picture of a dog or describe a dog from memory. The child has gone from a concrete understanding (seeing the dog and identifying it) to an abstract understanding (picturing the dog in his mind). Keep this approach in mind when teaching math foundations and basic math facts.

Teaching With Manipulatives
Using math manipulatives allows children to understand math concepts in a concrete way first, eventually leading to an abstract understanding. For example, exposing your child to shapes that she can see and touch allows her to obtain the initial concrete understanding of shapes and ultimately leads to an abstract understanding or mental image of the shape.

Having an abstract understanding of math facts is crucial for mastery of math concepts.  Children learn best when they are taught concepts in different ways. When learning shapes, give them opportunities to see the shape, feel it, and hear a description of the shape (e.g., this is a triangle, it has three sides, here are the three sides). Over time, have them identify and describe the shape to you. After they have mastered the concrete understanding of the shape, remove the manipulative and have them identify the shape from a picture, draw the shape, and/or describe the shape to you to check if they have developed an abstract understanding.

Melissa & Doug Shapes – Chunky Puzzle is a great example of shape manipulatives.

melissa and doug shapes

Manipulative are also an excellent way to teach basic math facts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. For example, show your child ten objects broken into rows of two, with five in each row to help  her understand  5 x 2 = 10, 5+5 = 10, or 10/5 = 2, such as in the picture below.


After showing her how to do it, allow her to set up the objects herself,  practicing different examples, to drive the concept home even further. Concrete understanding of basic facts can lead to abstract understanding so students can learn to visualize basic math problems in their mind.

MathLink Cubes (Set of 100) are a great example of math manipulatives that can be used to visually represent addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems.
math cubes
Teaching Underlying Rules

Despite practice in school, many students have difficulty remembering basic math facts. It is critical for students to remember these  facts in order for them to be successful with higher level math concepts.
Practicing with flash cards like:
is an effective study method to help students drive these math facts into their memory.
An effective variation of traditional flash cards are the 3-sided flash card like Three-Corner Flash Cards: Addition and Subtraction or Multiplication and Division Three-Corner® Flash Cards. Here is an example of what a 3 sided flash card looks like.
three sided flash card
You can use a card like the one above to teach addition and subtraction. Cover up the sum (11) so the child can only see 8 and 3 and ask them what the sum of 8 + 3 is, or cover up the difference (3) so the child can only see 11 and 8 and ask them what the difference of 11 – 8 is. You can also use three sided cards the same way to practice multiplication and division facts. He is an example of a three sided multiplication/division flash cards.
multiplication flash card

As discussed in my article “Teaching Mental Math: Basic Addition“, number lines such as Carson Dellosa Student Number Lines Desk Tape (4421), which can be taped to a table or desk for easy access, are another excellent tool kids can use to solve addition and subtraction problems.

Give Choices
Let children choose from different methods when solving equations during flash card practice such as using manipulatives, number lines, pen and paper, counting on their fingers, or solving problems in their mind, etc. Whatever methods your child is most comfortable with are acceptable

Keep Your Cool
Remember to always stay calm when working with a child or student, even if you think they should be getting something that they are not getting.  If you get frustrated with them, they may start to feel anxious, angry, inferior, stupid, etc. which will lead to a less productive learning session.

Computerized Learning
As stated in our previous math article, “How Math Games Can Help“ computerized learning has become a common method used in the classroom because it allows the students to see pictures accompanied with verbal math problems or explanations. Many teachers use the IPAD to allow students to play math games in which graphics are part of the learning experience. Allow your child to play computerized math games at home for a fun, visual, and participatory experience.

K5 Stars includes over 300 educational computer games that let you track your child’s or students’ progress and create playlists for her specific needs.  It is a highly rated  program by parents and educators. I am not too crazy about  the catch phrase “Don’t let your child fall behind”,  but the games  make  learning fun.

For more product suggestions to help a child with math, visit the Wise Market of Wise Education and Behavior.

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For more tips on learning and behavior visit the Learning/Behavior Strategies section of Wise Education and Behavior. We share new tips on learning or behavior every week. Check out our articles on behavior, reading, math, writing, and general learning.

Thank you for reading.

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