How Can We Support Math Learning at Home?

Math at school is no longer taught the way we used to learn it “back in the day” and if you don’t want to frustrate your children when you try to help them with their math homework, it would be wise to get a deeper understanding of some of these new methods for teaching math. The last thing you want is to be telling your child one thing while the school teaches your child another. If your child is still trying to figure out his math homework, that would only serve to further confuse him.

If you were pretty good at math back in your day, you may scoff at these new methods as newfangled nonsense. However, they have been shown to help students get a better understanding of math, and when you think about it from a learner’s perspective, they really do make much more sense. Back in the day, we were taught mathematical rules that we just had to follow. If we were strong with our numbers, we might eventually figure out why those rules exist and math would make sense. If we weren’t, chances are, we probably forgot how to do our math once we passed that final exam (or not).

How to Support Math Learning at Home

These methods for teaching math are based on a better understanding of how children learn. The intention is for the students to understand the shortcuts in math that we were taught to memorise. As a result, they help more students develop their confidence in math.

3 Stages of Learning

Jerome Bruner identified three stages of cognitive representation:

  1. Enactive, which is the representation of knowledge through actions.
  2. Iconic, which is the visual summarization of images.
  3. Symbolic representation, which is the use of words and other symbols to describe experiences.

Children need to go through each stage before they can move on to the next. In Math, this is referred to as the concrete-representational-abstract sequence of instruction:

  • Each math concept is first modeled with concrete materials.
  • Students are given opportunities to practice new skills using concrete materials.
  • When students have mastered the concept using concrete materials, the math concept is then modeled at the representational level. Concrete materials are replaced with images that represent the concrete objects previously used.
  • Students practice the math concept using the representational drawing solutions.
  • When students have mastered the math concept using representational drawing solutions, the math concept is finally modeled at the abstract level.
  • Students practice and master the concept at the abstract level before moving to a new math concept.

Concrete Stage

This stage involves the use of physical math manipulatives, such as:

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Representational Stage

This stage involves the use of image representations, such as:

Abstract Stage

This final stage involves the use of abstract representations with numbers and symbols, for example:

Supporting Math Learning

Realistic Math Education

The philosophy underpinning Realistic Mathematics Education (RME) is that students should develop their mathematical understanding by working from contexts that make sense to them. Initially, they devise their own intuitive methods for working on problems but, using a carefully chosen sequence of examples and appropriate teacher interventions, they then generalise and develop a more formal understanding.

An important stage in RME is when students move from their own intuitive mathematical strategies to more sophisticated and formal ways of working. Because the students’ understanding is rooted in contexts and mental images, it is secure.

Exposing children to a range of methods to solve calculations ensures that they have a good understanding of math and that subsequent mathematical knowledge is built upon a strong foundation.

See also:

Useful Math Links: