Let’s Actually THINK About Math!

Homework Frustration?

I recently came across another frustrated parent who was overwhelmed with their student’s math homework.  She posted this picture of a workbook page and commented on how even she doesn’t understand how to do the 2nd grade math homework.  Does this sound familiar?  Do you think that these type of math questions are appropriate for a math worksheet?

think about math


First, let’s talk about why the second question is important.  If you are like me, then you never saw questions like this second part in your math textbooks.  Our questions only went as far as filling in numbers to solve math problems.  No one ever asked us to actually think about those numbers, or if those operations actually made sense.  That is the problem with math for many people today.  You can subtract 3 from 8, and you can add 5 and 4, but you’re not really sure why you do it that way, or if it is even important.  If a child can start to think about math in a different way, it allows them to transfer knowledge to new situations.  Now they can not only determine the number of bananas and apples on the counter, they can also solve problems that might be more relevant to their lives, out of the context of a workbook.

Let’s think about it

OK, be honest, were you stumped by question 2 as an adult?  Would you know what to do if your child needed help with this page?  Let’s try it together.  A homework conversation could go something like this:

Parent: OK, it’s asking if we could do step 2 first to solve this problem.  What is step 2?
Child: Five plus four equals nine.
P: OK, let’s think about those numbers.  It looks like we already knew the number “four” from the question, but we didn’t know “five” or “nine.”  Could we have gotten either of those numbers without doing Step 1 first?
C: Well, “five” was the answer to Step 1, so we wouldn’t have known that number, and “nine” is the answer to 5 + 4, so that means we couldn’t have solved it without Step 1.
P: Great, so do you think that we could have found the answer by doing Step 2 first?
C: No, because we wouldn’t know all the parts of the problem yet.  We had to solve Step 1 first to find what numbers we need.
P: OK, let’s write that down as your answer.

Side note: If I were the teacher that assigned this page, I would take yes or no as a correct answer, as long as there is a good explanation.  As a parent, I would encourage you to direct your child to really say what they think, and direct them to finding the answer on their own, as the above conversation shows.  Now some of you might be saying, “wait, wait, it is possible to do Step 2 first.”  And you are right.  Ultimately, this type of question is pointing kids towards the concept of algebra.  Obviously in 2nd grade students are not ready for algebra, but it is the idea of introducing the concept.  In this case, the question is helping students to learn that there is an order to take when solving multi-step problems, and how each step builds on the next.

So next time your child brings home a math problem that seems irrelevant, ask yourself, “does this help them THINK about math?”  Then know that you are giving your child the skills they need to really understand math.

Common Core Math Standards

Use addition and subtraction within 100 to solve one- and two-step word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.1

Solve two-step word problems using the four operations. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding.3



Leave a Reply