29 November 2011

Adding And Subtracting

Oh wise educator types - I need some help.

The child. She can add and subtract. She can even add and subtract three digit numbers. But they've been doing timed drills on single digit adding and subtracting, and she manages to get through maybe 50 of 100 equations in 8 or 9 minutes. 2 + 1 = __. 9 - 4 = __. It's stuff you shouldn't have to think about, and I know she knows it - but she gets bogged down. She needs to learn to speed up a little.

Yesterday afternoon, I had her do some subtraction drills. I gave her 10 problems and a minute to do them in; she finished in 40 seconds. Another 10 problems; she finished in 20 seconds. 20 problems, she finished in under 2 minutes. But when I gave her a sheet of 100, she petered out and could only do about half in 9 minutes. Lacks stamina. Voices frustration: "I can't do math". Clearly there's a disconnect here; she can do it, but she short circuits.

I tried giving her a mantra:

I can do 10.
If I can do 10, I can do 20.
If I can do 20, I can do them all.

She didn't like that one bit.

I tried having her warm up by writing the numbers from 1 to 10 forwards and then backwards, as quickly as possible. That helped with the next round of 10 and 20 problems; she still chokes when faced with a longer set.

And it's not sinking in for use later: this afternoon in school, she got 43 out of 100, in 8.5 minutes.

Any ideas? Yes, I've talked to her teacher - who is also pondering the puzzle. But I thought you wise people might have ideas too.


Anjali said...

What's the educational value in doing 100 math problems in X minutes? I get that they're trying to memorize math facts. Our 2nd graders only do 40 at a time. If you put 100 problems in front of me, I'd peter out, too.

Julia said...

Have her use a blank sheet of paper to cover up all but the ten or twenty she's working on. It's a visual thing. And learning to break down something overwhelming into smaller, more manageable parts is a major life lesson worth learning.

But I agree: why bother doing 100? It's called "kill by drill", and is almost guaranteed to teach kids that math is boring.

Heide Estes said...

The Offspring gets those, too, except in batches of maybe 40 or 60. He doesn't finish. Confession: I've never worried about it.

Are the other kids finishing 100 problems, or nearly all? Or is Miss M in the middle of the pack in the numbers she can complete?

Anonymous said...

She's not ready developmentally and ditto on drills yuck. Congratulations on November posting from a fan~! Linda

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

What's the point of this exercise? To proves she knows all her math facts or to build stamina? These are two different things.

Does she know every single math fact when you do them in the smaller increments? Then she's mastered the facts.

If stamina is the issue, maybe she's just not developmentally ready. Does she have stamina in other areas? If she does, I probably wouldn't worry too much about it.

I like to remember that it is only in K-12 education are all students expected to be good at all things.

Harriet said...

I remember AJ doing this too. He liked it -- he likes to race. I actually think it was bad for his math skills. We're now trying to get him to slow down. He speeds through things and makes careless mistakes. I was going to suggest the paper cover up method someone else already mentioned. I do think the drills serve a purpose. At some point, you want to stop figuring out simple arithmetic problems and realize you just know the answers -- trust your experience and knowledge. I use techniques very much like this when I'm trying to teach a choir to memorize a song. Doing it really fast sometimes unlocks a different part of your brain -- you don't have time to puzzle it out; you just have to do it. But if a kid isn't ready to handle it, well, the whole exercise doesn't make sense.

Angela said...

OK, here's the comment from the math whiz.. Adam got the "math minute" sheets in 2nd grade which had 32 problems to solve in 2 minutes (Dova says 2 minutes, but Adam says 1 minute). Every few weeks they did an addition or subtraction sheet. In the first few months he would get close to the end, but not finish. But at some point, he completely the sheet in the allotted time and from then on, he really had his math facts cold. So I do believe these drills work.

Now Dova is in 2nd grade and she only gets about 1/2 of the sheet done and of the ones she does complete, there are always a few wrong (did not inherit my math gene). And the teacher says she's doing really well at them (I did mention her brother's performance but not the MIT alumna expectations). But I think the point of these drills is to see continual improvement and be encouraged by it. In most cases, the more you do them the better you get at it.

Now for your 100 problem sheet in 9 minutes, I think that is way beyond a 8yo's concentration time. I can barely stay focused that intensely for that long! I don't think it's necessarily the number of problems that is the issue, but the amount of time you're expected to remain on the same task. You could suggest that she finish 20, and then take a 15 second break and not look at the sheet. Then come back and do another 20. If she can keep her 60 second pace for 20 problems, she'll be done in 6 minutes including the breaks!

Mama Bub said...

I was going to say the same thing that Julia said - Have her cover all but the first row of questions with a blank sheet of paper.

It's unfortunate that this will be a part of math through basic multiplication and division. The reality is that they need to know their basic math facts, but why we insist on these timed tests with 100 questions as the rule for teaching these things everywhere and always is beyond me.

Carol Bodensteiner said...

Other readers have answers to your current situation, but I wondered if you've heard of or looked into "Math Doesn't Suck" by Danica McKellar. As a grandma of two pre-school granddaughters, I'm looking for ways to encourage them in math. Just wondered.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that maybe playing around with different ways of doing this might help while gradually increasing the number of problems. How about these ideas?

1. Have her create sets of 10 or 20 problems for herself. Then she can solve the sets she's created.

2. Create 5 or 6 sets of 10. Give her one. Then, when she's finished, immediately give her the next one.

3. Create sets of 25 or 30 with patterns (1 + 1 =, 2 + 1 = , 3 + 1 = ).

4. And the idea suggested above about visually breaking up the groups might help too.


V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

Another take on this: My son, a math whiz, now 16, was terrible at the elementary drill worksheets. Never finished.

Two reasons why:

1) he didn't see the point of them. the problems were "easy," he already knew this stuff, had already been tested on it, why do it again and again and again? it was maddening to him. it didn't make sense. seemed like a waste so he didn't try.

2) his dad is an engineer and my son definitely has engineering tendencies in his thought processes. that was part of the reason for #1, above. another reason he didn't finish drill type worksheets is that instead of just mindlessly doing them, he'd be trying to devise a system to do them faster. for example, he'd scan all the problems, group them in his head, do all the ones of a certain "type" at a time, then move on to another group etc. he'd skip all over the sheet and end up wasting time in his quest to find the most efficient way to complete the sheet quickly. his brain isn't wired to mindlessly plow through stuff.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

My daughter always draws pictures on the back of these math facts sheets. I've never seen her finish more than 1/2 a sheet. Honestly, though, it never occurred to me that it was a problem... It sounds like your concern is that she feels defeated, right? And that she's bad at math? I might bring that up with the teacher, see if she can single your daughter out for praise in math once in a while.

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InTheFastLane said...

I get it, quick recall of these facts IS important, especially as they get older and tougher math. BUT, sometimes, it is just the sheer number that is overwhelming for kids. My 12yo was this way when it came to multiplication. He knew them. I would do flash cards with them and he would know them, but give him a sheet of 100 problems? He would freak out and I think it was the anxiety of it that would prevent him from doing his best. I would find out if this is stressing her and teacher her relaxation techniques if needed.

Kyla said...

I also recommend covering a row at a time. I get overwhelmed, too, when faced with what seems like an unmanageable amount of work.

mayberry said...

A friend just mentioned that she uses this site with her kids - I know nothing about it, but from her description, it sounded like it might address your need.


mayberry said...

A friend just mentioned that she uses this site with her kids - I know nothing about it, but from her description, it sounded like it might address your need.


susan said...

CG has been working with xtramath.org--although we had a huge argument on Sunday morning when she wasn't answering a question that she had just 2 seconds prior answered verbally very quickly. Xtramath is a nice program--it is basically adaptive flashcards and it tracks progress on a little graph and matrix, moving kids through first addition, then subtraction (and onto multiplication and division practice). It emphasizes a few number of facts at a time.

CG's school doesn't do timed drills, but she clearly gets stressed, or something, with certain kinds of test situations or HW sets. And I don't understand it. She is having tons of trouble getting beyond the xtramath addition fact sets, even though I think she really does know all those facts. I just can't figure out why she can't demonstrate that on demand. Her teacher has just set the class up for xtramath so I'm wondering whether the teacher's gaze is going to be motivating for her in a different way.

I just don't get how CG learns math. For 2 years now, she's had bad math teachers. This year, she has a good one, which is such a breath of fresh air. Also, since last summer we've had a tutor working with her (which takes some of the pressure off the parental relationships and makes her feel supported). I can see the difference in her approach to many, many math problems now--but then she will suddenly seem to forget things that I know she has been fluent in before. It's so frustrating for her and for me (although I realize it's my job to let go of that frustration and not add to the problems).

Marinka said...

That's so interesting. Does she get the later problems wrong or is it spread out?

Oonie said...

I know I'm late to the party, but have you asked if she can do problem sheets in a bigger font? That made a world of difference for our niece. 12 point type to 24 point type was the difference between petering out and finishing.

YourFireAnt said...

Maybe she just gets bored of doing it after 20. I would.