to Math Problem Solving

Connecting math concepts to math problem solving can be overwhelming and confusing for a child who doesn't understand basic math concepts.

Recently, a friend contacted me about how her daughter was having trouble connecting math concepts to math problem solving. Her daughter was having trouble connecting that 2X2 is the reverse operation of 4 divided by 2.

My friend also mentioned that not knowing these math concepts was interfering with her daughter's ability to do math problem solving like word problems.

She wanted to know how her daughter could get the “math facts” or "math concepts" without having to do the boring worksheets or doing memorizing drills.

But before I share with you what I told her, let me say this, “Math is by its very nature a subject that will rely heavily on memorization.” Connecting math concepts to visuals such as manipulatives and by using games or videos are often the only way learning disabled students can learn the necessary "math facts" and math problem solving skills.

Workbooks or Worksheets

Using worksheets for practice is a necessary "evil". However, some children like timed challenges to see if they can beat their time from the last time they practiced. Try to find workbooks or worksheets that grab their attention. For some children this may mean worksheets with lots of color.

Think about the math problem solving skills that you need to know just to be able to do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. If a person was to learn just the facts of each operation to 10, that would be more than 400 number facts. That isn’t counting the communicative values of addition (1+2=3 and 2+1=3) and multiplication (5X2=10 and 2X5=10). 

For some students, math problem solving is an overwhelming task. For the child who may have dyscalculia, this can be not only overwhelming but devastating!

ALL children should know how to count before they go to kindergarten. At least up to 10. Some schools may require students beginning kindergarten not only know their alphabet but also how to count to 25.

Using Coloring Pages and Manipulatives

Coloring worksheets with the numbers written as characters can be a fun way for emerging students to learn what the numbers look like.

But what do you do for the child who doesn’t like to color?

Coloring worksheets with the numbers written as characters can be a fun way for emerging students to learn what the numbers look like.

But what do you do for the child who doesn’t like to color?

Using a manipulative like blocks, pennies, straws, legos or anything else that will grab a child’s attention is one way to help with memorizing numbers and connecting math concepts to what a number looks like and how many that number represents.

This is a great way to reinforce math problem solving skills.

Teaching Number Concepts

Numbers are all around us. We use numbers all the time. At the grocery store, gas station, going out to eat, finding an address and even watching TV. Numbers, like letters, are very important. Success in school depends on the 3 R’s: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.

Here are just a few suggestions on how to get started with connecting math concepts to math problem solving skills from the early childhood through 3rd grade.

  • EARLY CHILDHOOD: From the time your child starts talking, you can having them counting and learning their numbers. Start with what they have on their body; their toes and fingers. EVERY night count the fingers on their hands, 1-5. Do this with both hands and both feet. Have them say it with you. Make sure you say “You have 5 fingers on each hand.”

    In the morning, ask them if they still have their fingers and toes. Count them as you put their shoes and socks on or when you’re washing their hands.

    When they learn 1-5, show them how to add these all together.

  • PRESCHOOL: Kids can start learning the double math facts up to 10. Using each hand and foot, this is easy to do. 1+1=2, 2+2=4, 3+3=6, 4+4=8 and 5+5=10. These facts are easy to teach and children seem to like this repetitiveness. The story of Noah’s Ark can be used to teach counting by 2’s.

  • KINDERGARTEN: This is where children will learn to count up to 100. You can show this on a number line. Have a different color highlighting every 10 in order to show the tens, twenties, thirties, etc. Children love counting by 10’s. Some of the first math problem solving questions will use this skill.

  • 1st GRADERS – 3rd GRADERS: Math worksheets can be used as tests to see what the child still needs help learning. Some math facts worksheets have the same facts more than once on a page. For instance the math facts for the 3 x’s table would have 3X1, 3X2, 3X3, etc. on the page 3 or 4 times.

    This is only one form of learning the 3X’s table. Make sure the child has a variety of ways, such as interactive videos, in which to learn different types of math problem solving skills.

5 Things Not To Say To Your Child

  1. "Just do it and get it over with!"  
    This won't lead them to the understanding the problem.

    INSTEAD:  Take a break and play a math game.

  2.  "Don't do it that way!" 
    Many schools and teachers insist students do math the "Common Core" way.  Many Common Core math concepts are very different from what most parents learned.

    INSTEAD:  Watch the videos about how to do Common Core math.  Do it prior to helping your child. (This is a FB page and you will need to scroll down the page to find the Common Core videos.  HOWEVER, when you find one and click on it the other videos will show up at the bottom.  I can't copy and paste these, so you will need to go to Melissa's FB page.) 

  3. "Here's the answer."
    Don't give your child the answers!  Go to another problem or find a way to help your child solve the problem.

    INSTEAD:  Say "Let's work on this one together."  Ask the child to show you the process that he did.  Tell him you will be able to see where he is going wrong while figuring the problem.

  4. "Your too slow!"
    This comment won't help your child move any faster.  If they don't understand the concept, this statement would only make them feel inadequate.

    IF your child consistently has trouble finishing the math homework due with being too slow, then talk with the teacher.  IF your child understands the math concept then doing a lot of problems isn't going to help your child understand the concept any better.

    It is more IMPORTANT for your child to know HOW to do the math problem rather than doing a lot just because everyone has to do that many!

    Talk with the teacher or principal and see if the child can have lesser problems to finish.

  5. Dont say, "I hate math too!"
    This attitude will only encourage your child that math isn't important.  Some children may see this as an affirmation that they are stupid.

    INSTEAD:  You might say, "Yea math gave me problems too.  However, we all need to know how to do the basic problems and figure things out.  For instance if you want to buy a video game with the money you earn, how will you know if the clerk is giving you back the correct change when you pay him?  Show them how important math is for other things as well.

Math Games

Kids love games! Using games is one of the best ways to learn ANY math fact as well as strategies. Learning strategies to figure out a problem is just one skill needed for math problem solving.

I have created a few games that are based on some popular card games. However, instead of buying the games, I have tweaked them so that anyone can play the games using a regular deck of playing cards.

I’m sensitive to the parents (due to religious beliefs) that don’t like to use a deck of “poker cards.” I will also provide a link so that a similar game can be purchased.

I have played all of these games with my students; they love the games. My students especially like “beating” me. When playing with my students, I use different variations of the games, depending on the student's ability.

Commercial card games can be bought at a local toy store and will costs around $6 - $8.

The games that I have created will cost you no more than a deck of regular playing cards which you can purchase at a Dollar Store for $1. However, you may want to purchase a better quality which can costs about $2. IF you know someone that goes to the casinos in your area, you can have them pick up a used deck (or decks) of cards for FREE.

The game instructions are FREE. However, you will need to register for a password. After obtaining the password, come back here (bookmark this page) and click on this card games page where you will be able to copy and print the instructions to your computer.

Math Camps

If your child has struggled or is struggling with math concepts during the school year, summer is a great time to get that extra help they may need. has listings of 100 different camps across the country.  Think about sending your child to a specialty camp such as one of these instead of a regular summer camp.

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