What do the White House, the Eifle Tower and the Taj Mahal have in common? Yes they are geographical landmarks, and yes they are magnificent and impressive, but they also have something else in common. They all started with a strong, solid foundation. A beautiful building is nothing if it’s foundation is weak and cracking. The same goes for knowledge. Without a strong foundation in math, it is very difficult for students to withstand the wealth of math concepts and ideas thrown at them throughout their educational career. Too many students get introduce to very narrow and focused math concepts, without first being introduced to the broad concepts and ideas that the details are built upon. If students are taught math concepts out of sequence (multiplication before place value, for example) their grasp for both will be shaky and unclear. If your child is older and does not have a solid math foundation, they are not a lost cause. With a little bit of work and education, a shaky foundation can be built up, and the results are improved confidence and improved grades.
Math curriculum in elementary school can be broken down into five key groups:
- Number Sense and Operations
- Geometry and Spatial Sense
- Data Analysis and Probability
Although these concepts sound advanced, broken down into their very basic parts, these concepts are things elementary students should, and can, do in their everyday academic life. Geometry is present when learning about shapes, measurement happens when they experiment with using a ruler, and recognizing patterns is the first step in learning algebra.
Math is like a staircase, if one step isn’t strong, the entire staircase will be wobbly. Each step needs the step below it in order to be strong and continue moving forward. When parents and teachers jump too quickly to the “middle of the staircase” they are setting their students up for a very shaky experience as they reach the top.
If you notice that your child is having trouble with algebra because they are not familiar with fact families, take the time to go back and “fill in the holes” of their math foundation. Although this may seem time consuming, it will do wonders in their overall understanding of the more complex math concepts.
Creating a fun environment, daily practice and defining clear, attainable goals are all important aspects of creating a strong math foundation. Teachers and parents must also remember to focus on the “why” when it comes to numbers. Students may be able to solve a math question, but if they don’t understand how and why the numbers work like they do, they will have a harder time when they reach higher-level math courses.
Spend the time creating a solid math foundation, and watch as a confident and successful math student emerges at the top.