# Math struggles ... I just don't get it

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I am at a loss what to do. DD is 12, finishing up 6th grade. We've been using R&S in addition to whatever curriculum they use in PS. She's never been super strong in math, but she managed an 80% average or so. She passed state tests comfortably last year. We just finished R&S and she did well with it, yet, she got 50s on other math assessments I gave her for additional practice.  I was looking through some of the assessments and her working through them, and some mistakes just puzzled me. Some examples:

* 85% of 15 - her answer was 3,000,000. It did not occur to her that this is a totally unreasonable answer.

* 165 /10 - she started doing long division to figure out the answer, but when I pointed out that dividing by 10 is easy, she remembered to move a decimal point.

Overall, she does not seem to have any sense about how reasonable or unreasonable the answer is untill I point it out or ask about it. She also does not use any mental math strategies. Everything is done on paper. The above examples were not isolated errors. She seems to be confused with anything that is worded or presented differently from R&S. We are both very frustrated. Math always came naturally to me, so I have a hard time relating to how she can start with 15, end up with millions and not wonder what went wrong.

My question is -- what can I do to help and do we plug along or we need to remediate? If we do need to remediate, I am at a loss what exactly. It's not one specific topic that she does not know, it's basic common sense. I've looked at Ronit Bird books, but DD knows all of the basic stuff. She knows her math facts, she knows how to make a 10, how to add and subtract. As I said, I am just at a loss.   Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

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I don't think I'd try  new curriculum so much as I think I would spend some time on modelling guesstimating before doing a problem. So each lesson or homework assignment, you sit with her & say, ok, just listen & I'll explain how I'd approach this problem "first, i read it through, second, I diagram/draw picture or write out the knowns & unknowns or just copy it out - whatever is appropriate. Now, I think. What would be reasonable? - and here, you talk it out  " Jenny made 3 dozen cookies & 50 % of them were burned and she had to throw them out. So how many cookies are left? Well, it would have to be less than what she started with. In fact it would be half." etc etc -  Then, I  start working the math. Then I check and compare my answer with what I thought it would be."

I think she might just need some explicit modelling of what this process would look like.

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I agree w/hornblower that talking through the concepts, out loud explicitly, is probably the way to go.  It sounds like she's stuck in plug-and-chug land and could use much more fleshing out of concepts.  At this particular stage, if you were looking to supplement or switch, I'd look for something with a lot of concept discussion.  However, I think the solution might well be in discussing concepts at length regardless of the program.  Use problems that are not from R&S and work them together on a white board.  Lots of them.  Then gradually hand over the reins a little bit at a time

Are there any other learning difficulties, such as with reading comprehension?  Making inferences?

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Thank you for responding. What you are saying makes sense. I guess when you put it this way, she is sort of stuck in plug and chug approach. Yes, DD struggles with reading comp, inferences, predictions.

Is there any particular program that is good at modeling this sort of thinking? I was thinking of doing 6th grade review with another program over the summer to cement the concepts and get her exposed to something other than R&S way of presenting things.

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Off the top of my head, the first thing that comes to mind are the Process Skills in Problem Solving workbooks.  I'd start well below grade level (the idea isn't about grade levels, of course, but about learning how to approach problems; look at the tables of contents to see what topics are covered in which levels to get a better idea of where would be best to start).

Going forward, I'd either supplement or switch or otherwise heavily emphasize concepts while you are teaching.

Work on reading comprehension and making inferences separately - there are workbooks for that too.  For the math, lots of time spent working through differently-worded problems together will help, but it's going to take significant effort.  I would highly recommend a buddy-math approach, together with a white board.  As she has trouble with inferences, be more explicit, and go slower, than you think you need to!  At a minimum, I'd add, say, one or more word problems per day - go slow, be patient, allow her to struggle but be there to offer guidance, ask questions that might help point her in the right direction, etc.

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I teach a student that also has problems with knowing when to add, subtract, etc. For example, a problem like "Sam is 4 feet tall. His dad is 6 feet tall. How much taller is his dad?" this kid will add 4 + 6 and get 10 feet. He doesn't have any sense of what to do or if an answer is reasonable.

I'm pretty certain it's a language issue. "How much taller" doesn't make a picture in his mind. I have a list of addition words and subtraction words, and he refers to them as he does word problems. But I really want him to develop an intuitive sense of why he's adding or subtracting, which he currently does not have, at all.

Does your daughter like to draw? Would she sketch problems, or build them with blocks, Legos, etc? I agree that acting out the problems is a great idea. If 50% of the 12 cookies burned, how many will you throw away... using big motions, miming "throwing away," figuring out that it has to be LESS than what you started with, etc...

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I teach a student that also has problems with knowing when to add, subtract, etc. For example, a problem like "Sam is 4 feet tall. His dad is 6 feet tall. How much taller is his dad?" this kid will add 4 + 6 and get 10 feet. He doesn't have any sense of what to do or if an answer is reasonable.

I'm pretty certain it's a language issue. "How much taller" doesn't make a picture in his mind. I have a list of addition words and subtraction words, and he refers to them as he does word problems. But I really want him to develop an intuitive sense of why he's adding or subtracting, which he currently does not have, at all.

Does your daughter like to draw? Would she sketch problems, or build them with blocks, Legos, etc? I agree that acting out the problems is a great idea. If 50% of the 12 cookies burned, how many will you throw away... using big motions, miming "throwing away," figuring out that it has to be LESS than what you started with, etc...

One of my DDs is just like that and I also have determined it to be a language issue. I was stuck so long thinking it was a math issue, but it's not for my DD. It's some sort of vocabulary or language comprehension issue and it doesn't matter if the problems are read to her or if she reads it herself. She can calculate like a champ if she knows what you want. I also see the language problem in other subject areas and even general life. It's just in math, you can't fake it very well because there's 1 correct answer.

I have no brilliant solution, but what works for DD is to sit by her side and slow her down. I will watch what she does and interrupt her if she starts to make a mistake. Then I will ask what she's doing and why. At least half of the time if she rereads the problem, she'll get it correct. If she still is confused, I draw a picture for her to show her what the words mean and she can usually do it. She is almost 11 and she's getting better but we're still well below grade level. The more I watch and interrupt mistakes, the more I can find phrases she hasn't understood and has been faking, and I can try to help. If I don't watch, I can't figure out where she goes wrong and she doesn't understand what she doesn't understand, so asking her after the fact is no help.

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Mainer,

when it comes to word problems, you've described my DD perfectly. She does have a hard time understanding exactly what is being asked, and we are working on it. She's gotten pretty good at figuring out based on key words like shorter, taller, more, less, how many groups, etc. It is definitely a language processing thing.

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NYmomof4, I sympathize with your struggles. It's very frustrating and confusing! Good luck with everything, and if you find something that helps... let me know! I will do the same. Hugs!

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My dtr is language impaired and struggles with this also. The strategies recommended by her Nueropsych was to use number lines, pictures, diagrams, 100 charts etc. My dtr is 13 and is still thrown off by the term "more of " etc. So I would work with your child one on one to train them in the habit of making pictures of what is being asked step by step  (because eventually word problems become more complicated). Then  step away from time to time and see if she is using the strategies.

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http://nycdoeit.airws.org/pdf/ridd.pdf

The latter half of the book Overcoming Difficulties with Number by RB has been extremely helpful for DS. RB teaches more visual ways to problem solve, a mental math subtraction technique called mental bridging, and alternative methods of long division, and multi-digit multiplication.

Eta: You could also print up a math keyword chart and allow your child to use the chart as she solves word problems. Another link follows:

http://www.lamoure.k12.nd.us/pcarlson/files/2013/10/Key-Words-for-Math-Word-Problems.pdf

You and your DD could create math keyword posters together and use those instead.

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My dtr is language impaired and struggles with this also. The strategies recommended by her Nueropsych was to use number lines, pictures, diagrams, 100 charts etc. My dtr is 13 and is still thrown off by the term "more of " etc. So I would work with your child one on one to train them in the habit of making pictures of what is being asked step by step  (because eventually word problems become more complicated). Then  step away from time to time and see if she is using the strategies.

Yes, this is exactly how my daughter (13) is too. Language impaired, doesn't get those terms in word problems, and often is confused by why her answer could possibly be wrong. I suspect a combo of language problems and number sense problems account for the difficulty in both the OP's daughter and many of our kids struggling with these concepts in math.

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Yes, this is exactly how my daughter (13) is too. Language impaired, doesn't get those terms in word problems, and often is confused by why her answer could possibly be wrong. I suspect a combo of language problems and number sense problems account for the difficulty in both the OP's daughter and many of our kids struggling with these concepts in math.

I know with DD it is definitely a combo of language issues, number sense and I suspect low working memory. Trying to pull up meanings of words AND discern what is being asked AND filter out unnecesary information AND do the calculations required AND determine if the answer seems reasonable can be overwhelming.

Going slow, reviewing terms often, having a terms and a multiplication chart available when needed has definitely helped here but it hasnt completely solved the issues. Just increased her odds of being successful.

Good luck OP. Suggestions upthread sound like they may genuinely help. I hope so. Best wishes.

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