Difficulty with basic mathematics and computational skills may often be evident at a very young age. As preschoolers, children who struggle with math may have trouble identifying numbers, learning to count, and recalling simple addition facts. Elementary school students with math difficulties may seem to know math facts one day, only to forget them the next, or may have to go very slowly in completing math homework, as if they were learning to solve each problem for the first time. Some students may be able to master simple calculations, but not be able to automatically apply these skills to higher-order mathematics, including algebra, geometry, statistics, or calculus.
Children who struggle with mathematics typically have difficulty in one or more of the following three areas:
- Math computation: The ability to do simple mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
- Math fluency: The capacity to automatically recall and apply math facts, formulae, and computations.
- Math concepts: Understanding mathematical concepts such as time, distance, geometry, grouping, sequencing, graphing, and mathematical relationships.
Math computation is defined as the ability to calculate, or use a mathematical operation, to study quantity, structure, space, or change.
Individuals with strong math computational skills are able to learn and retain math facts with greater ease, and apply calculation skills efficiently. Children who struggle with math computation may have difficulty solving basic math problems in their heads or struggle while working out complex math problems, even with the use of a calculator.
Thinking Skills used in math calculation:
- Focus: Maintaining attention while trying to solve math problems.
- Working Memory: Remembering the processes and methods for solving problems.
Math fluency is described as the ability to solve math problems in an effortless, efficient, and clear fashion, and takes into account the pace with which one can perform calculations. Math fluency enables students to automatically complete a mathematical task without having to figure out each step of the problem as if they were attempting it for the first time.
Thinking Skills used in math fluency:
- Time Management: Awareness of the amount of time necessary to complete a task and the ability to work efficiently.
- Working memory: Immediately being able to access learned or known math facts in order to “automatically” solve problems.
- Flexibility: Being able to shift very quickly between different types of operations. For example, while calculating an average, a student needs to switch from adding the numbers to dividing their sum.
Math concepts allow students to understand the relationships between numbers and operations and to apply this knowledge to the real world. Individuals who understand mathematical concepts are often described as having a good “number sense.” Conceptual math underlies an understanding of higher order mathematics and is a key component of sciences, statistics, and computer programming.
Students who have difficulty with math concepts may find it problematic to do word problems because they cannot identify the crucial information needed to solve the problem. They may also experience difficulty understanding graphs, symbols, and higher-level mathematics.
Thinking Skills used in math concepts:
- Self-Awareness: The capacity to think about and evaluate one’s own mathematical reasoning and problem-solving skills.
- Flexibility: The capacity to perform a series of different mathematical operations in order to solve complex mathematical problems.
Games and Apps+ for Mathematics
In addition to educational games and apps designed specifically to teach math skills, there are other games and technologies that can serve to practice mathematics while still having fun. These include:
- Puzzle video games: These games require hypothesis testing and understanding mathematical relationships. Online versions of Sudoku and console versions of Big Brain Academy require direct mathematical calculations in order to be successful.
- Websites: Find websites that have content that match your children’s interests that also involve statistical information. For example, try animal sites that describe the weight and dimensions of animals; sports sites that provide current and historical statistics for players; or sites about geography that list populations of various countries, distances between cities, or relative incomes between countries.
- Apps: While “skill and drill” may not be the most fun, it is easy to find simple apps that have characters that capture your children’s imagination. Believe it or not, monkeys, ballerinas, trucks, or robots can and will encourage regular math practice.
- Serious games: This approach is for older children who are interested in issues such as overpopulation, poverty, energy supplies, or distribution of wealth. Numbers and mathematical concepts are required for a complete understanding of issues and topics in many of these games.
- Graphic Design: Many types of graphic design and photo-editing software allow for resizing images and other visual design strategies that require basic computation and use of geometric concepts.