Math Games for Those Who Homeschool

Fun Computer GamesOne of the largest areas in education today has got to be in the field of homeschooling.  Regardless of why you choose to homeschool your children, the fact remains that you want them to have the best educational experience possible.  Math has always been a huge challenge for students, so it should come as no surprise that it remains such for parents trying to find a way to communicate the curriculum to their homeschool students.  For years, teachers have known that games and play activities are a great way to get math concepts across to children.  Here are some ideas for using these activities with your children:

  • Board Games.  Yes, board games are fun for a Friday night game night.  But they can also be educational.  For younger children, bring out Candyland or Chutes and Ladders and reinforce basic numbers and counting.  With older children, get out Monopoly and work on their money skills.  Don’t forget a game like Clue that reinforces the counting skills but also teaches a very valuable skill that many people overlook—logic.  Finally, you don’t even have to use the whole game.  Just get the dice out and have your child add up the dots when they roll them to learn basic counting skills.
  • Online Games.  I know that many parents may think this is heresy, but online math games have a lot to offer the homeschooled student.  These games can reinforce not only basic math concepts, but also advanced mathematical skills such as algebra and geometry.  And, they do it in a way that holds the student’s attention and makes math cool and fun.
  • Cooking.  One of the big ideas I have always advocated is using cooking as a means of getting math concepts across to students.  Let’s face it:  Kids love to eat.  So have them help you bake a batch of cookies and teach them a life skill, but also reinforce measurements, fractions, ratios, and addition while you are at it.
  • Sudoku.  If you’ve never tried a Sudoku puzzle, now is the time to do it.  These addictive games can be found in the crossword puzzle section of every newspaper and online for free (Many tablets including the iPad even have free Sudoku apps you can download).  These puzzles help students with number skills as well as logic, sequencing and patterns while helping to keep the brain sharp.  You can find them in ultra simple versions for the youngest children in your household, or, for the real experts, try looking for the dreaded Samurai Sudoku puzzles that really test your logic.

Math does not have to be dull and boring.  One of the great things about homeschooling is that by spending time with your children you can give them the one-on-one attention that they need to keep it exciting and interesting.  And one of the greatest ways to do this is to incorporate play and games into your child’s curriculum.

Does Math Tutoring Really Help?

If you ask any child what their roughest subject is at school, one answer is bound to come up time and time again—math.  No matter how you slice it, many students cannot wrap their brains around these concepts.  Unfortunately, unlike other subjects that reinforce the material later on, failure to grasp a core skill early on may be particularly detrimental as students must use this skill with higher-level concepts in later math classes.  If a child “doesn’t get” fractions, then they aren’t just going to have problems in elementary math; they will also struggle greatly in algebra and geometry that uses this concept extensively.  So the question is, how can you ensure that your child is able to keep up with his or her math class?  Is tutoring the way to go?  The answer is a resounding—yes!

There are several reasons why parents should consider getting their child into a tutoring program of some kind.  This could be in the form of a professional company that offers tutoring services or it could be a local church or community group or after-school program which offers adult tutors or even peer tutors to assist children.  Regardless of the type of tutoring, parents should know the benefits.

  • First, enrolling your child in a math-tutoring program shows your child that you value education.  Too often, children do not see learning as important.  They feel that they just have to show up to school and put in the time and they are through with it.  But by enrolling them in this type of activity, you are emphasizing to your child that you care about his or her education and you want to see them succeed.
  • Another major benefit of math tutoring is that it allows a child to bolster his or her self-confidence and self-esteem.  Too often, students feel demoralized by low grades, particularly in math, and feel that they are “too dumb” to do the work.  Girls particularly fall victim to this negative stereotype that math is “too hard” and they need the reinforcement from positive role models that they can do this.  Once they begin to see success from the tutoring, they will have more confidence that will lead to greater academic success.
  • Math is also very much a skills-based curriculum field.  Unlike a subject like history, math isn’t about just memorizing concepts and facts.  You have to practice the skills over and over with problems.  A tutor gives a student the ability to practice these problems with a guide who can assist them if they go off track and make a mistake.  If they make a mistake on their own doing homework, they will continue to make the mistake over and over and reinforce the error in their brain.  But a tutor can stop this early on and keep them on track.  The student can then continue to reinforce these skills at home on their own with online games that help them to practice the math concepts.
  • Finally, if a student does not master a concept in a math class (such as the aforementioned fractions), oftentimes the teacher has to move on to the next section of the curriculum due to the demands of a fast-paced curriculum.  Little time is left in class for remediation and it is often easy for a child to get lost in the shuffle.  But a tutor can review and supplement this material in a way that a teacher cannot with one-on-one assistance.

If your child is struggling, or even if he or she just needs a little assistance, tutoring is definitely an option that you should consider.  This is a way that you can ensure your child does not fall behind now and in the future.  Math courses only get more complex as they go, and you don’t want your child trailing in the race early.


Examples of Math in Everyday Life (in Honor of Math Awareness Month)

Math SkillsA critical subject that touches nearly every part of modern life, math often flies under the radar. Countless high school teachers have heard their students ask that seemingly ubiquitous question, “When will we ever use this?” Unfortunately, because they often regard math as a niche subject without real world merit, American kids are falling behind the rest of the world, when it comes to math aptitude. To promote higher achievement in this fundamental subject, it’s important that kids understand how it will impact their lives in the coming years.

Math Is Everywhere

Mathematics is a major part of our world; however, many people overlook its importance. In addition to countless other areas, math plays a big role in the following:

  •  Cooking – Math is a major factor in the kitchen, where conversions and fractions help determine failure or success. In cooking, each ingredient is measured in kilograms, grams, pounds, ounces, tablespoons, or teaspoons. To serve multiple people, you have to know the proper way to multiply or divide based on the recipe you are working with.
  • Budgets – American students have fallen way behind other countries in math. Sadly, this problem has been around for decades, resulting in numerous adults, who consistently mismanage their money. Millions of Americans have found themselves in credit card debt, because they haven’t been able to balance their budgets. If you want your children to successfully manage their money as adults; it’s important that they excel at math during their school years.
  • Building – Whether you’re an amateur putting together a shelf or a professional building a house, you need math to do the job properly. Building guidelines require the understanding of measurements in feet, inches, meters, or centimeters. Without the appropriate knowledge, builders would be like rudderless ships sailing in the ocean without knowing their destinations.
  • Diet – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 78 million Americans are overweight. To calculate an effective dieting program, people need math to understand exactly how many calories they should be consuming based on their height and weight.
  • Work – Good math skills are a critical necessity for numerous professionals, including: engineers, physicians, researchers, teachers, attorneys, ecologists, statisticians, inventory strategists, chemists, accountants, carpenters, landscapers, architects, biologists and countless more. In fact, studies suggest that people who have good math skills tend to make much higher salaries when compared to those who don’t. Part of this is because math-related jobs pay more; however, it’s also due to math itself. In fact, according to the experts at College Board, when high school kids complete just a single geometry course, they are 80 percent more likely to attend college.

Turning the Tide

To the chagrin of teachers everywhere, math skills are declining. In a recent report ranking worldwide math aptitude, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked American students fifth to last in a list of 30 nations. To reverse this disturbing trend, parents and educators must focus on new ways to get kids interested in this critical subject, before inadequate skills lead to big problems during their adult lives.

Celebrate Math Awareness Month

Math Awareness Month

In 1986, following a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan, a week was set aside as Mathematics Awareness Week.  In this proclamation, the president referred to the importance of mathematics towards the “progress of economy and our society.”  Then, in 1999, the celebration evolved and now April is designated as Mathematics Awareness Month.  Celebrations and activities are held at the local school level to help increase the visibility of the field of math.  Here are a few ideas for educators of all grade levels on how they can help their students celebrate this event.

  • Institute a “problem-a-day” contest.  Look through some of the challenging word problems in textbooks to find enough to give you a difficult question for each day.  Consider giving something like a homework pass or extra credit to the student (or students) who get the most correct during the course of the month.
  • Host a math game tournament—Let’s face it, kids love video games.  And one of the hottest trends today in math education is the use of video games as a means of practicing math skills.  What better way to celebrate Math Awareness Month than to host a game tournament with students competing head to head with the highest scores moving on for the title of Supreme Math Gamer.
  • Invite a guest speaker to your class.  Call local engineering or architecture firms or the math or science departments at the local college and ask them to come in and speak to your class on the importance of mathematics in their field.  Many of these folks would love the opportunity to do some community outreach and also help promote their field.  If possible, ask if there is a female member of their staff who can come speak as girls are still greatly under-represented in the mathematics field and need all of the role models they can get in this area.  Before the speaker comes in, have the students generate questions that they can ask them.
  • Plan a cross-curricular activity.  Too often at the high school level, departments tend to stay very compartmentalized with little to no collaboration.  But this would be a great opportunity to plan something on the history of mathematics, looking at famous mathematicians from Archimedes to John Forbes Nash.  Also, this year’s election cycle had one clear-cut winner—the statisticians who were able to predict the elections.  This would provide a great opportunity to have a cross-curricular lesson on polling data and statistics and how they were used in this year’s national elections.
  • Find a connection with the real world.  This year’s theme for Math Awareness Month is “Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge.”  Show students how data impacts every aspect of their lives.  Gaming systems use statistics for games; Facebook and Twitter also collect data that can be researched by the students.  All of this can make for research presentations that the students can study and then bring back to the class.
  • Study something out of the ordinary.  There are lots of unusual topics in math that teachers normally don’t get to discuss such as the Fibonacci sequence, fractals, and chaos theory.  This would be a great opportunity to expose your students to these ideas with short mini-lessons.

Regardless of how you celebrate, it is a great idea to do something this year to showcase Math Awareness Month.  Careers in mathematics truly will lead the way in developing our economy.  That is why it is important to give students of all grade levels and ability levels exposure to the ways that math impacts their lives.


Should Computer Games be Used in Classrooms?

Computer GamesA recent blog posting on the New York Times website posed an interesting question, “Should computer games be used in classrooms”?  The author, a self-professed child of the 80s, admits to being a fan of video games, but also admits to having learned very little of value from them.  Having thrown the question open to the readers and asking for comments from the various readers of the blog, the answers are just as varied as the students who walk each day into the classrooms across the country.  From middle and high school students to instructors in America, Europe and South America, people chimed in with their comments and thoughts on this subject and the consensus is that yes, video games do have a place in the classroom.  But before students cheer at the thought of an Xbox in every classroom and luddites begin to bemoan the death of the education system, hear out what seems to also be the consensus.

Computer games most definitely have a place in the classroom.  But the emphatic phrase in that statement is “a place.”  Computer games are wonderful tools for reinforcing skills that have been taught in the classroom, giving a student the opportunity to hone his or her abilities with practice.  But just as a mechanical tool cannot repair a car on its own, a computer game cannot teach on its own.  They have to be used in conjunction with an academic curriculum that includes face-to-face instruction with a professional educator.  Particularly when it comes to math or science classes, computer games can reinforce basic skills after they have been taught with what have previously been the old pencil-and-paper drill and practice problems.  The games add a lively component that appeals to the relatively short attention span of today’s youth culture while also “tricking” them into learning with activities that they think are solely fun without realizing that they are also educational.  But it is highly unlikely that these students would be able to utilize these games were it not for a trained teacher instructing them in the skills necessary to be able to “beat the game.”

Computers and video games are here to stay.  Instead of running away from these technological advancements, teachers should embrace them and find ways to incorporate them into their classes and make them a part of their lessons.  Many teachers have shunned the advent of educational games out of a sense of fear that they will be replaced by computers; but the reality is, the games are just a tool which cannot replace a skilled and competent educational professional.