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Real Math Mastery, Part 2

In my blogs this month, I’ve been trying to help parents see what matters most in math mastery: the big ideas of math. One of the biggest causes of math anxiety in this country is emphasis on memorization rather than understanding. After all, it’s easier to remember things if you understand them.

Eventually children need to memorize facts and procedures, but if they get too far ahead in this without understanding, math starts to look like a huge dictionary of unrelated ideas to master instead of the wonderful world of connected ideas it truly is. Truly, it is!

Equality is another one of these huge ideas. Too often children internalize that “The = sign means an answer is coming.” No, that = sign means that the quantities on each side of it are equal! And that’s a huge difference that unlocks the door to algebra. You can help your child grasp this simply by moving the equal sign occasionally as you help with homework; for example, rewrite 2 + 3 = ? as ? = 2 + 3. Or they’re setting up a word problem, ask for another way to write the equation. Then, problems such as 2 + 3 = __ + 4 will begin to make more sense to them!

Conservation is the last big idea I’ll talk about, although there are more. This is the concept that no matter how objects are arranged, the quantity stays the same. Children often assume that when tokens are in a long row, there are more of them than if they are bunched together. Rearrange them, and they’ll recount if they don’t understand this concept. (We as adults sometimes struggle; think about comparing 16-oz glasses of different shapes; will they each really hold the whole soda plus ice???)

You can check whether your child understands this concept with any set of small objects. Group them one way, then another, then see if they recount. Reinforce the concept by trying it with different objects grouped in different ways until they understand. But keep it fun—do it as you set up cards to play Concentration or SET™!

Why all these technical blogs on these math terms? Because as parents you can so easily reinforce them at home once you understand what they are!

By Jane Kise, Ed.D. – Educational Advisor and Consultant, 
Jane  writes an insightful post every Tuesday for Kidtelligent. Jane is an educational consultant, specializing in teambuilding, coaching, and school staff development. She is also the coauthor of more than 20 books. Jane’s website  is