Experience is the best teacher. As such I want to share with you lessons that I have learned over the years when it comes to teaching young people mathematics. Knowing what to look for in your child’s math work can help you encourage good habits and correct common problems.
I put together a list of the 7 most common mistakes that cause middle and high school students to be weak at math. As a homeschooling parent you want to pay special attention to these areas and work with your child until they have mastered each skill below.
Many young people have trouble with fractions. It’s an absolute must that your child understands fractions and their respective operations. Often students ignore fractions because they have a calculator—don’t fall into this trap! If you’re weak in fractions you will have a difficult time with algebra and beyond.
Students that have not mastered working with positive and negative numbers will have a very difficult time in middle and high school math. Once again, don’t let your child rely on a calculator…they must know and memorized the rules of integers.
3. Order of Operations
Often, many students have a false sense of security that they are following the proper order of operations when simplifying a numeric expression. Weakness in this area if not corrected early will undermine success in mathematics. So, please ensure that your child understands and thoroughly practices the order of operations, also known as PEMDAS (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally).
4. Distributive Property
Many students tend to make distributive property errors especially when solving equations. If you see a pattern of your child not correctly applying the distributive property it is imperative that you go back and review the distributive property until the skill is mastered.
Mathematics is a language. To clearly understand what we are saying in math it’s vital that we write out steps in a neat and orderly manner. Again, students tend to get over confident in thinking that writing out each step is a waste of time, only to find out that they made an error that could have been caught if they had carefully written out the steps (I call this the “I knew that” mistake). To instill neatness and logic in problem solving, have students model their work after the steps shown in a textbooks or by teacher examples.
6. Pencil not pen
No one writes out all the steps in math perfectly the first time so students must be prepared to erase mistakes. This seems obvious, but many students like to work in pen and their work gets messy fast; if your child likes using a pen insist on using a pencil.
7. Enough space
Another tendency students have is that they like to conserve space on their paper while working on problems. This noble conservation unfortunately leads to crowded work that does not show all the steps of a problem solving process. Avoid this tendency by encouraging your child to use whatever amount of paper it takes to show all the steps. Also, if your child writes very small try to encourage them to write a bit larger so they can see all their work clearly.