# Math problem: child good at concepts, weak in arithmetic

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Ds8 is conceptually very strong in math but his arithmetic skills are very, very poor. I have no idea what to do with him. We slogged through SM until 2A where I hit a wall. I realized that I hadn't been using the HIGs and hadn't been doing anything concrete. We went all the way back to the beginning of 1A and redid the simpler stuff with manipulatives and went through the Extra Practice book. He flew through it, no trouble at all. Then we got back to the same spot in 2A and hit the same wall. After lots of agony and talking with dh (who is very mathy) we decided to skip the SM Workbooks and go right from the Textbook to CWP. This worked well and he could often do the math fine and we sped up. Just a few weeks later we're at the end of 2A and doing multiplication/division by 2s and 3s. He understands (and understood long before we got to it in the book) what multiplication and division are. But getting him to come up with an answer for 8 x 3 is like pulling teeth. He just cannot count by 3s quickly. He cannot quickly say, "two eights is is 16 so another eight is 24". He doesn't have any basic math facts memorized. He doesn't have doubles memorized.

We do mental math almost daily and the easiest columns of them (even in the 1A or 1B books) still take him more than a minute. Sometimes more than two minutes. He often pauses for a long time on things like 10-1. He can't get to and from ten quickly.

I'm at a loss. We've drilled this stuff every way I know how and I so desperately want to advance him because, conceptually, he is very, very solid. But, without the basic arithmetic he is so slow that he gets frustrated solving a difficult problem (the exception is that sometimes he can mentally do complex word problems, but only sometimes).

Thoughts?

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My dd is EXACTLY the same. She is 7.5. Pages of arithmetic practice or flash cards or drills would be torture for her. I've just started playing a few simple games to get those facts to be more automatic.

Mother May I-I give her an addition or subtraction and a way to walk toward me. So I'd say take 4+5 bear crawls. If I know the answer is too large, I add a subtraction. So if I tell her take 9+9 bunny hops, I'd add in a -6, making it 9+9-6 bunny hops.

Beach Ball toss-I wrote numbers on each strip of color on some beach balls. Whatever number her hands are touching when she catches the ball, she adds.

Subtraction Hop Scotch-she tosses two pebbles and subtracts the smaller number from the larger one and hops that many times.

I don't know how much it will help, but it's better than pages and pages of arithmetic.

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I have a 9 year old who is exactly like this. SHe catches on to the concepts quickly but very few of her math facts are automatic. To make sure she was getting the concepts, I let her use a multiplication table for her work and she did everything perfectly. Because she doesn't know her math facts, she's making silly addition and multiplication mistakes. I'm just drilling, drilling, drilling. Flash cards, drill, ad nauseum. I don't know anything else to do. In order to move on, she HAS to know them. I know no other way for her to move on.

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Can you just give him c rods to help with the calculations?

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My son was motivated to learn his multiplication tables when we started tracking them. We have flashcards for the facts from 0 - 12. We set up a graph and once a week I'd run the cards with a timer. At first the agreement was if he could get through the cards in under 5 minutes for 3 weeks in a row, he'd get a "reading day" for school where I'd buy him any book he wanted (likely a book of cartoons) and he'd get the rest of the day to read whatever he wanted and we'd count it as school. Any type of reward can work.

When he'd get a problem wrong, I'd have him say the problem and answer aloud 5 times, so "Eight times three is twenty-four...". Then in a later week if he froze, he could say "eight times three" and "twenty-four" would follow naturally.

When we were at stopping points due to arithmetic issues, we'd skip in the book. Move ahead & do graphing, then come back to multiplication. Or use manipulatives (base 10 blocks).

I think understanding the math is essential. I also think memorization of some facts is extremely important. It can be tricky finding the balance between both.

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Can you just give him c rods to help with the calculations?

What's a C-Rod?

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Okay, so creative drilling. I can keep doing that.

I guess I'm wondering if there's some point where the lack of math fact mastery will hamper his understanding of concepts. If not, I can keep drilling. maybe let him "cheat" with a times table (would love other thoughts on this!) and keep drilling.

I'm just so dumbfounded at such a smart kid having such a hard time with this. Today he counted by threes, slowly, on his fingers to figure out "what times 3 equals 24". But then he had to count his fingers! He didn't automatically see that 5 and 3 was 8.

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What's a C-Rod?

Cuisenaire Rods which we have and he only kind of likes. But maybe working with them more would help. He is very, very visual.

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What's a C-Rod?

Cuisiniare Rods. Used with Miquon in particular & other programs as well. Really neat tools.

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My son was motivated to learn his multiplication tables when we started tracking them. We have flashcards for the facts from 0 - 12. We set up a graph and once a week I'd run the cards with a timer. At first the agreement was if he could get through the cards in under 5 minutes for 3 weeks in a row, he'd get a "reading day" for school where I'd buy him any book he wanted (likely a book of cartoons) and he'd get the rest of the day to read whatever he wanted and we'd count it as school. Any type of reward can work.

When he'd get a problem wrong, I'd have him say the problem and answer aloud 5 times, so "Eight times three is twenty-four...". Then in a later week if he froze, he could say "eight times three" and "twenty-four" would follow naturally.

When we were at stopping points due to arithmetic issues, we'd skip in the book. Move ahead & do graphing, then come back to multiplication. Or use manipulatives (base 10 blocks).

I think understanding the math is essential. I also think memorization of some facts is extremely important. It can be tricky finding the balance between both.

The chart is a good idea. I do give a very small reward anytime he beats his previous time in mental math and, slow as he is, he is hugely improved as a result. And he is perfectly capable of memorizing. He memorized "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" in second grade. Maybe drilling along with intensive c-rod use would give him some visual pegs for the times tables. I guess I definitely remember just drilling them in my head over and over as a kid until I could say them all automatically.

It also makes sense to drop it, move on, and then come back. He's really good at anything remotely like geometry and SM tends to stack up those lessons. So we could alternate them with more arithmetic chapters.

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I guess I'm wondering if there's some point where the lack of math fact mastery will hamper his understanding of concepts. If not, I can keep drilling. maybe let him "cheat" with a times table (would love other thoughts on this!) and keep drilling.

Never did with me. I didn't have my 9's memorized until I was getting my master's degree.

However... not knowing the facts cold has slowed me down at times & I've made some really boneheaded careless errors. That's why I'm making sure my son drills & memorizes. Again, it is a balance.

I'd spend a good bit of time with manipulatives - maybe daily drills with manipulatives and work to build speed and automaticity. When doing new material (because drill alone gets soul-killing), let him use the table, but start each day with some drill (maybe 15-20 min of practice, hands-on, and speed drill/games, then rest of time on new stuff).

Don't, don't, don't allow a calculator though!!! :)

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Cuisiniare Rods. Used with Miquon in particular & other programs as well. Really neat tools.

Thank you. We never used manipulatives and now I wonder if that was a mistake. Well, I take that back. We used her "My Little Pony" figurines to learn basic addition, subtraction, and groups! ;)

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Make sure you check out Maria Miller (Math Mammoth) in her video on

. (My 9 yr old is starting to finally get where she doesn't have to count on her fingers as she's skip counting. But, we still have a long way to go. :crying: You aren't alone.)
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Make sure you check out Maria Miller (Math Mammoth) in her video on

. (My 9 yr old is starting to finally get where she doesn't have to count on her fingers as she's skip counting. But, we still have a long way to go. :crying: You aren't alone.)

Having my daughter watch this today!! Thank you.

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Thank you. We never used manipulatives and now I wonder if that was a mistake. Well, I take that back. We used her "My Little Pony" figurines to learn basic addition, subtraction, and groups! ;)

C-Rods are great. Check out Education Unboxed for some great videos. These can be used for higher-level math and have even helped me see elementary math in a deeper way, so it's not too late to get some.

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Make sure you check out Maria Miller (Math Mammoth) in her video on

. (My 9 yr old is starting to finally get where she doesn't have to count on her fingers as she's skip counting. But, we still have a long way to go. :crying: You aren't alone.)

Thanks. That's very encouraging. I'll check out those videos on a bit.

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Make sure you check out Maria Miller (Math Mammoth) in her video on

. (My 9 yr old is starting to finally get where she doesn't have to count on her fingers as she's skip counting. But, we still have a long way to go. :crying: You aren't alone.)

This video was super-helpful. Thank you! I think seeing the structure of the table will be a game-changer for him.

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Rod and Staff arithmetic 3rd grade book is a great resource for learning facts. I have had the same struggle with my son who just turned nine. We used Singapore Math 2A -3B. He did very well with this math, but he did not learn his facts. We are backtracking a little this year and making learning the facts top priority for math. R and S has not been exciting, but it is helping us accomplish this goal.

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We hit a wall on Singapore 2 as well and took a hiatus, used MathUSee to master the facts, then came back and she could fly through the formerly tears-worthy problem sets. Now we do that with all the levels and all the kids: Singapore for the conceptual and problem solving, etc, then MUS on the side for fact mastery. They don't seem to mind. Heh.

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You might want to look at these. The Xtra Math is very fast paced; I'd suggest doing the TimezAttack (includes addition & subtraction) first.

Xtra Math

https://www.xtramath.org

BigBrainz

http://www.bigbrainz.com

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My son only completed SM 1A for what it's worth but he had the same problem. Conceptually he could understand so much more, he's excellent at word problems. I went on a limb and bought Math U See. We started with Alpha and he is getting it so much more. Especially for the missing addend. ___ + 2 = 7 He just could not do that type of problem , total meltdown, but he was understanding division and multiplication. Using the blocks has been so helpful and visual for him. He is getting it and not melting down. The videos have been especially helpful to him and me. He enjoys watching them.

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Okay, so creative drilling. I can keep doing that. I guess I'm wondering if there's some point where the lack of math fact mastery will hamper his understanding of concepts. If not, I can keep drilling.

So I've no experience with this from a home ed perspective, but I do have the perspective of a math teacher who has taught all levels of math, and who also teaches other math teachers at the graduate level. So I don't know if my perspective is at all helpful to you, but here it is! :)

Let me just say that I'm a mathematician who hates arithmetic and I hate memorizing anything. I'd rather use my reasoning skills to derive a formula over memorizing a formula any day. *However*, the single biggest obstacle I see when teaching math (especially remedial tutoring) is a lack of arithmetic skills. While it won't hamper their ability to understand complex or abstract topics and ideas, their inability to do simple problems in new areas (without the use of a calculator) has a significant affect on their morale and their feelings of math competency, which quickly turns people away from math.

I think it's absolutely imperative that students know what they're doing when they're adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. But I also think it is crucial that students have the basic arithmetic facts (multiplication tables, etc.) memorized cold as early as possible. So I would recommend using any and all motivation possible to get these memorized -- games, rewards. etc.

I don't say this because it's fun or easy -- trust me: I really do hate memorizing things, and as a general rule, I almost always discourage teachers from forcing kids to memorize stuff. But if you think about the way you do math in your hard: if someone asks you 8*7, chances are (maybe not, just chances are) that you just have memorized the answer is 56. If they're going to excel at math, they'll end up with all of this memorized anyway, so my feeling is that memorizing it asap gives them a much better starting point for everything else.

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My ds8 is exactly like your son. Many similar experiences. But he watched the TimesTales dvd and has memorized his multiplication facts up to 9's. It was quick and painless. You memorize stories and pictures, not numbers. Now I just need something similar for addition.

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My DD was great at deriving facts, and was good at using them in higher math seemingly without hesitation, but couldn't for the life of her, pull them out of memory by themselves. I could never figure out why it seemed to take her less time to add 197+268= than to add 7+8=. What worked for my DD was trying the World Math Day games last year (they're coming up in the first week of March). Seeing, on her computer screen, that other kids were so much faster than she was. After the challenge was over, I subscribed to the same software they used for the games for a year, and I've seen her speed improve dramatically this year. She also took a major, major conceptual leap as well right after she got her speed and accuracy and fluency up on those facts. I think for DD it was kind of a feeling of "This is easy, and I know how to do it, so why practice?", and she had to have first-hand experience with other people her age to realize that "Oh-THAT'S why!!!". She needed competition to motivate her, and it had to actually be with other people, even if they were only names and avatars on a computer screen, not just computerized opponents or Mom's iPad timer.

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Life of Fred elementary is a fun way to work on these facts. The author also works into the story line *why* it is important to learn the facts.

We also enjoy playing Jelly Beans and KNOCK-OUT!.

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So I've no experience with this from a home ed perspective, but I do have the perspective of a math teacher who has taught all levels of math, and who also teaches other math teachers at the graduate level. So I don't know if my perspective is at all helpful to you, but here it is! :)

Let me just say that I'm a mathematician who hates arithmetic and I hate memorizing anything. I'd rather use my reasoning skills to derive a formula over memorizing a formula any day. *However*, the single biggest obstacle I see when teaching math (especially remedial tutoring) is a lack of arithmetic skills. While it won't hamper their ability to understand complex or abstract topics and ideas, their inability to do simple problems in new areas (without the use of a calculator) has a significant affect on their morale and their feelings of math competency, which quickly turns people away from math.

I think it's absolutely imperative that students know what they're doing when they're adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. But I also think it is crucial that students have the basic arithmetic facts (multiplication tables, etc.) memorized cold as early as possible. So I would recommend using any and all motivation possible to get these memorized -- games, rewards. etc.

I don't say this because it's fun or easy -- trust me: I really do hate memorizing things, and as a general rule, I almost always discourage teachers from forcing kids to memorize stuff. But if you think about the way you do math in your hard: if someone asks you 8*7, chances are (maybe not, just chances are) that you just have memorized the answer is 56. If they're going to excel at math, they'll end up with all of this memorized anyway, so my feeling is that memorizing it asap gives them a much better starting point for everything else.

Thank you so much! I appreciate your POV and experience!!!

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We hit a wall on Singapore 2 as well and took a hiatus, used MathUSee to master the facts, then came back and she could fly through the formerly tears-worthy problem sets. Now we do that with all the levels and all the kids: Singapore for the conceptual and problem solving, etc, then MUS on the side for fact mastery. They don't seem to mind. Heh.

Thanks for the ideas (and for all the other idea for curriculum and games!). He hates workbooks with a deep, deep passion. And we have a good amount of manipulatives. And we have no room in the budget. So I need to work with what we have. I think I've gathered lots of good ideas for using C-rods, effective drilling.

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Life of Fred elementary is a fun way to work on these facts. The author also works into the story line *why* it is important to learn the facts.

We also enjoy playing Jelly Beans and KNOCK-OUT!.

Oh, yes! We love Fred. We discovered that series in August and we've been working through it. We just upped it to a chapter a day rather than just a Friday supplement and ds loves it. It's definitely not helping the memorization since there isn't really any drill in Fred. Lots of review but the concepts don't elude him. And he has no trouble with the "Why is math useful?" question. He excels at word problems. But it is nice to be able to say, "Even Fred thinks you should learn to double numbers quickly!"

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So I've no experience with this from a home ed perspective, but I do have the perspective of a math teacher who has taught all levels of math, and who also teaches other math teachers at the graduate level. So I don't know if my perspective is at all helpful to you, but here it is! :)

Let me just say that I'm a mathematician who hates arithmetic and I hate memorizing anything. I'd rather use my reasoning skills to derive a formula over memorizing a formula any day. *However*, the single biggest obstacle I see when teaching math (especially remedial tutoring) is a lack of arithmetic skills. While it won't hamper their ability to understand complex or abstract topics and ideas, their inability to do simple problems in new areas (without the use of a calculator) has a significant affect on their morale and their feelings of math competency, which quickly turns people away from math.

I think it's absolutely imperative that students know what they're doing when they're adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. But I also think it is crucial that students have the basic arithmetic facts (multiplication tables, etc.) memorized cold as early as possible. So I would recommend using any and all motivation possible to get these memorized -- games, rewards. etc.

I don't say this because it's fun or easy -- trust me: I really do hate memorizing things, and as a general rule, I almost always discourage teachers from forcing kids to memorize stuff. But if you think about the way you do math in your hard: if someone asks you 8*7, chances are (maybe not, just chances are) that you just have memorized the answer is 56. If they're going to excel at math, they'll end up with all of this memorized anyway, so my feeling is that memorizing it asap gives them a much better starting point for everything else.

Thanks for chiming in! I am also a firm believer in fact memorization as well. I think what I was looking for here was permission to move forward with concepts in the absence of memorization. We're adding in more daily drill time with a variety of methods and I'm hoping that will help him speed up his calculations while still feeling like he's making progress overall. He's so glad that we're almost done with that 2A book!

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If it makes you feel any better, 2B comes back around with mental addition and subtraction strategies, so there's more practice/review of those concepts coming up.

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Thanks for chiming in! I am also a firm believer in fact memorization as well. I think what I was looking for here was permission to move forward with concepts in the absence of memorization. We're adding in more daily drill time with a variety of methods and I'm hoping that will help him speed up his calculations while still feeling like he's making progress overall. He's so glad that we're almost done with that 2A book!

I think that moving forward with concepts *while continuing to work on facts at his level* is a great idea. I had a terrible time with facts and did not have them all memorized until much later in the curriculum. I am so thankful that I was allowed to work on concepts until I found where I really needed the facts. I could always derive them, but I did not have them at my fingertips.

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Have lyou ooked into the right-brained or visual spatial learning style? Many kids with this style are right on target or even advanced with math concepts, but poor at memorizing math facts. They tend to be poor at rote memorization but much better at narrative or story memory.

www.visualspatial.org

I think it helps to know that this is part of a larger learning style and can be quite normal. It is hard when memorizing the facts is so stressed. I do a lot of what is mentioned with my son. We find creative ways to keep practicing the facts, but as long as he understands the concepts we keep going with lessons. I agree that memorization is best, but the brains of some kids are organized differently and this is not as easy as it sounds. It can be very damaging to self esteem to keep them doing the same thing over and over again.

It can be puzzling how a bright child can have trouble memorizing. It really does go back to how their brain is organized and where the neural pathways are. The ability to memorize certainly does not equal intelligence. Processing speed, or how quickly the brain can retrieve and use what it knows, can also be a factor. My son has low processing speed but high IQ, and it definitely affects the speed at which he can do math.

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I think what I was looking for here was permission to move forward with concepts in the absence of memorization. We're adding in more daily drill time with a variety of methods and I'm hoping that will help him speed up his calculations while still feeling like he's making progress overall. He's so glad that we're almost done with that 2A book!

I totally think that's ok, so long as you're actively working to get 'em memorized (like you said you were doing :D). I'd just want to get stuff memorized quickly enough that habits like using tables, calculators, etc. don't become too ingrained. It's a sad state of affairs that I've seen far too many high school students who whip out their calculators to calculate 21+13. True story!

Edited to add: Not at all intending to imply he will be like this! Just commenting on having seen students grow reliant on other tools.

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