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I have parent teacher meeting coming up in two weeks so I've been grappling with this. DD (in grade four) is ahead of all of her peers academically in class, but she's had a lot of tears and frustration with math homework. I'm having a pretty hard time with helping her understand some math concepts, like fractions and how borrowing from a zero works. The thing is, she aces her tests and the teachers always see completed assignments and good work. I'm concerned with how hard she seems to have to work at math compared to everything else, and I want to nip it in the bud before the math gets more abstract. The last time I tried to broach this topic, I was told it was normal for not everything to be way ahead (in her case, her language arts ability is extremely advanced) and that lots of kids struggle with the concepts. I was also reminded to not compare her to my 2E kid who is gifted in math. The thing is, she seems way more frustrated than she should be, and it takes her so long to get the hang of a new concept (although once she gets it, she really gets it). Any suggestions for constructively broaching the topic with a teacher. She's getting A's so I'm not sure how to get across that she needs some extra help to get over some humps. I'd like to catch this while her confidence is still high.
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
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Honestly, I know it's hard to watch our kids struggle, especially when the emotions run so raw, but many parents of highly gifted kids dream of this scenario: an area of learning where their kids really have to work, meet frustration headon, work through it, understand how persistence is eventually rewarded, and gain the gratification at the end from work well mastered. So really, while I understand the worries you're having, in some ways this is a good thing. She's learning to persist when things are difficult for her. And still achieving really well.
One thing I would wonder is whether the math program she's doing, and the help you're giving her, are missing the mark in terms of her learning style. I ask partly because of your mention of "borrowing from zero" which strikes me as a very illogical term for what I assume is ?regrouping a unit of higher place value. I wonder whether a more visual/symbolic approach, rather than an algorithmic/procedural approach might be the ticket. Just a thought.
Miranda
Mountain mama to one great kid and three great grownups
Honestly, I know it's hard to watch our kids struggle, especially when the emotions run so raw, but many parents of highly gifted kids dream of this scenario: an area of learning where their kids really have to work, meet frustration headon, work through it, understand how persistence is eventually rewarded, and gain the gratification at the end from work well mastered. So really, while I understand the worries you're having, in some ways this is a good thing. She's learning to persist when things are difficult for her. And still achieving really well.
One thing I would wonder is whether the math program she's doing, and the help you're giving her, are missing the mark in terms of her learning style. I ask partly because of your mention of "borrowing from zero" which strikes me as a very illogical term for what I assume is ?regrouping a unit of higher place value. I wonder whether a more visual/symbolic approach, rather than an algorithmic/procedural approach might be the ticket. Just a thought.
Miranda
Actually, the school uses the regrouping terminology and they started with the visual method, using unit blocks, rods, flats, cubes and so on to represent place value. Oddly, this was the part getting her confused. I initially tried showing her the way the school does (I sub as a TA, so I'm pretty familiar). She asked how we were taught, which was how "borrowing" came up. She knew how to do it right away once I described a procedural approach (like our generation grew up with), but the frustration (and rightly) was that she couldn't see or properly explain how or why she was doing the work. I actually would really like her to get why, and I'm glad the schools really explain this now, but she doesn't get it from the visuals that easily. She ended up getting it after a lot of verbal explaining of the logic behind each step in the procedure. I think she needs to be talked through the reasoning behind each step to really get it, but I don't think she has a common learning style in this regard.
I actually am glad to see her deal with really working hard in some ways. I've always felt my 2E son really learned to excel because he had to struggle so hard initially. He doesn't have DD's grades, but his projects in science and history are always amongst the districts best because he really pushes himself. I do think this might teach her to deal more with frustration. I guess I'm just concerned that she might be performing way above her understanding in math and slip by with it unnoticed. It's the whole fact that she can get through things with procedure and memorizing but not really "picture" it that has me nervous. But maybe this is just a learning style thing and I'm biased as someone who excelled in math and used really visual methods to solve even very abstract problems. Maybe the teachers are right that I'm unconsciously comparing with my very mathematically oriented DS.
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!


I would describe for the teacher how frustrated she is getting when doing her homework, and ask for strategies to help her manage the frustration level while she's learning new concepts. How much help do you have to give her? If she needs you sitting by her and walking her through the problems (where she's getting everything right eventually), explain that to them.
There's a difference between not being able to do things (it sounds like eventually she gets the concepts) and shutting down because she's so frustrated. Ask if there's an alternate way to describe things that might help, or if there are some basic skills that she could brush up on. Our son had trouble with long division until he really had mastered his multiplication facts without being able to think about.
Ask the teachers too how long it usually takes children to get these concepts. It sounds like they kind of brushed you off last year. It's unclear to me whether this is a frustration issue or a problem grasping the concepts. It could be that she's used to 'getting' things quickly that she doesn't have much frustration management. Or it could be that she really does have a problem understanding and applying concepts. I can't tell from your post, obviously, but I suspect your mother instincts might tell you.
There's a bit of a frustration issue, because of not being used to having to work quite this hard, but the mom instincts are telling me she doesn't quite get some of the place value concepts even though the school has used pretty concrete methods to demonstrate. I've actually been noticing trouble with this particular issue since grade two, with each particular problem around place values resolving, only to pop up again with a new concept. Right now it's the understanding where the zeroes fit into the place value equation that seems to be the issue, and particularly why regrouping from a zero takes both from it's place value and the place value left of it. Since pictures and models weren't working, we've had some results with physically changing all zeroes into their actual place value and doing the actual regrouping as a subtraction above the main work. (I hope I'm making sense) I'm initially having to walk her through each problem the first two days of any homework involving these concepts, and she's just about hysterical about not getting why the math works that way. (She could actually do the math questions, but she was very stressed about how to show or explain the work) There was about one hour of tears and struggles to get through what I think was meant to be about 20 minutes of math homework. I think I'll take the advice to just describe the frustration to the teacher. And I will ask how long this normally takes. Last year, the teachers thought she was taking about as long as the other students, but she seems to be having more difficulty this year.
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
My friends daughter was the same way. The teacher didn't take it serious enough. The girl wanted to excel she didn't have an older brother who did or a any other sibling but she seriously loved to push herself. When she didn't do as well in math it crushed her. Her mom got her extra tutoring to help her. I think the teacher had the mindset that she did fine and didn't have to work any harder but some kids really thrive on that kind of stuff so it was pretty unfair to label her an "overachiever" when in reality that was just her personality and she didn't flaunt it either.
Have you thought about afterschooling for math, with a program that is more suited to your child's needs? It sounds like you know more about where your DD is than the teacher, so this could be the answer?
We had a positive break through this week with the math. I realized that the visual approach didn't quite work for her, and she was still trying to get the why of the regrouping. Instead, I asked her, "Where did you obtain the numerical share to regroup from. She actually caught on really quickly that way, but she didn't do the operation in the conventional order. It seems that she thinks very mathematically/algorithmically, but not using the conventional procedure. (I feel silly I didn't think of this as she is very quick, but unconventional, at mental math) When she showed her teacher the way she was doing it yesterday, she said he was able to understand and show other problems using similar method, so it seems to have worked out. I think this year's teacher may have a better handle on it than last year's (male teacher with a science background who seems to have a different take than the former female, liberal arts oriented teachers on the math). Since this ironed out so well this week, I guess I'll still let him know about the initial frustration on parent teacher night, because there's a history of her not getting adequate math help from school and I don't want her "faking" she gets things when she needs help. But I think we can probably work out some ideas together that can help keep the math up at a level she's comfortable with. I already very much afterschool as old homeschooling habits die hard, and we have a very rural location that would make after school programs outside of home or school difficult.
Anyway, thanks everyone for the great ideas! I guess I (and it seems odd to me) have to figure out a less visual but flexible approach when she's asking for explanation, and take it from there.
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
DD1 is like that while DD2 isn't. It took a lot for me to understand that DD1 just needs me to tell her not show her. DD2 needs a power point presentation and snacks to get her brain in gear.
We had a positive break through this week with the math. I realized that the visual approach didn't quite work for her, and she was still trying to get the why of the regrouping. Instead, I asked her, "Where did you obtain the numerical share to regroup from. She actually caught on really quickly that way, but she didn't do the operation in the conventional order. It seems that she thinks very mathematically/algorithmically, but not using the conventional procedure. (I feel silly I didn't think of this as she is very quick, but unconventional, at mental math) When she showed her teacher the way she was doing it yesterday, she said he was able to understand and show other problems using similar method, so it seems to have worked out. I think this year's teacher may have a better handle on it than last year's (male teacher with a science background who seems to have a different take than the former female, liberal arts oriented teachers on the math). Since this ironed out so well this week, I guess I'll still let him know about the initial frustration on parent teacher night, because there's a history of her not getting adequate math help from school and I don't want her "faking" she gets things when she needs help. But I think we can probably work out some ideas together that can help keep the math up at a level she's comfortable with. I already very much afterschool as old homeschooling habits die hard, and we have a very rural location that would make after school programs outside of home or school difficult.
Anyway, thanks everyone for the great ideas! I guess I (and it seems odd to me) have to figure out a less visual but flexible approach when she's asking for explanation, and take it from there.
My son has the opposite problemhe eats math with a spoon, but has a lot of anxiety about writing assignments. His teacher refused to help me, or rather, expressed doubt that he was as anxious as I said. She said I was forgetting how much elementary children don't like homework.
I told her I didn't have homework in third grade.
I think my son's teacher also thinks he's doing fine with writing because the product looks nice, and she doesn't see how anxious and upset he becomes during the process.
I developed a series of parenting hacks to help my son through his anxiety about his writing assignments. It was difficult for me to relate to him because I'm very verbal. I found math frustrating in the same way writing sometimes frustrates him. I did a lot of the actual writing teaching, except what I shared with my husband, who is also a good writing teacher. The teacher at school didn't even know that he was anxious, or understand what I meant, so she didn't attempt anything to fix it.
Divorced mom of one awesome boy born 232003.
Actually, my older child is usually in the same shoes as the above poster's son. I've been lucky in that so far most of the teachers he's had are very happy to assist with language arts, even when his grades are good (he's not an all a student like DD, though). I've met more teachers who are supportive of reading than math for elementary grades.
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
I'm curious, FarmerBeth, do you really think the other children actually "get" the concept the way your daughter strives to? I was always a math whiz, but I feel like I didn't actually "get" a lot of these concepts until high school, when I started being able to consider math as something you could control, rather like a language. I feel like most kids your daughter's age are satisfied if they know how to reliably get the right answer. Seems to me, though, that a math teacher with a science background will definitely appreciate your daughter's quest for actual understanding of the concepts. Hopefully he'll be able to help.
I'm curious, FarmerBeth, do you really think the other children actually "get" the concept the way your daughter strives to? I was always a math whiz, but I feel like I didn't actually "get" a lot of these concepts until high school, when I started being able to consider math as something you could control, rather like a language. I feel like most kids your daughter's age are satisfied if they know how to reliably get the right answer. Seems to me, though, that a math teacher with a science background will definitely appreciate your daughter's quest for actual understanding of the concepts. Hopefully he'll be able to help.
Actually,it seems to me that most of the kids don't "get" the concept, but that's not enough for her,especially with an older brother gifted in math who does get these concepts more easily. So far, it's looking good with the teacher. He's really willing to talk through these ideas and I appreciate it, as does my daughter.
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
I was going to say something along the lines of newmamalizzy. I was always thought to be very good at math, and being a "problem solver" I actually liked math. From what I have heard, you DD sounds as if she might think a lot like me when it comes to math. I HAVE to understand what I am doing. I was told a lot to press the "I believe button". (So people could just move on) But I can't do this. Many math formulas are "i believe buttons". But all math formulas are shortcuts for the "longer" (more understandable) breakdown. I too can have red blocks put in front of me and added to and subtracted from and look at them and say "Yes that makes perfect since". Then like magic, when the numbers are in front of me, all that goes out the window. It mostly doesn't translate. To me they are different languages. This actually hit home when you mentioned the zero concept. There is a bit of a block when it comes to taking from zero. It sounds like you have already hit the nail on the head with this block and removed it with a 1 dollar can make 100 pennies approach. Anyway, I say all of this because I think she is actually going to prove to be extremely good at math, passing up most of her "classmates" with time. When she ends up with a math problem, and the rest of her class can't remember the formula, she will be the one still able to solve the problem, because she will understand the math. I will say to this day, it takes me longer to do math than others, because I have to work out all problems step by step. (I can't do math "In my head") But this might not be the case for her. And I also didn't like Geometry. I didn't think that shapes had any place in math, but when I was able to figure out the angles and correlation of how math was found in them, that is when I finally came around. My suggestion would be that when she starts having these "blocks" to try to recognize when a "formula" might be being used, and to break it down to the simplest form. The actual "bare bottom" one plus one, because it will all rest in being able to understand how that "happened". Once she understands the formula, she will use it no problem.
Disclaimer?: I know this is going out on a limb suggesting that I might understand, saying she must think like me, and assuming future possible outcomes because of it, all because of one problem, but for some reason it struck home. This could all be wrong, but I just had that feeling.... So, please take this with a grain of salt, (so to speak) but I really hope it helps!
TTC
OP updating here!
Parentteacher was this Tuesday and I found out from the teacher that he had asked them to find the rule for how to regroup from zero before showing them, and apparently DD held out the longest trying to find it on her own and succeeded. Her teacher actually felt that math and science were her strongest subjects and is very supportive of helping her really understand math. She has had a total turnaround in how she sees math since my first post, due, I think, in large part to a great teacher.
I really had to understand formulas, myself, but I "see" math in a very visual way and sketch through everything. When my DH was still a programmer (he's a nurse, now, big career switch) I taught myself binary because I liked helping him code. My binary looked nothing like his, it was this graph/diagram thing, but I still got the right answers. It's been an adjustment for me to attempt to use words to explain, which is how my daughter thinks things through. This situation has actually been great for both of us, as it's teaching me to adjust to other learning styles, and it turned out we both have the "puzzle bug" and we've been enjoying finding puzzles for each other.
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
How great to hear about such a wonderful teacher!
I wanted to add that I don't think it's actually that unusual for a bright child to find manipulatives or pictures unhelpful at understanding why math works. My DS will tolerate them after he understands the problem, but finds them to be a distraction when he is coming to terms with something. He needs to think it through and kind of find his own path through the web of connected ideas, and once he has done that he can branch out and look at other paths to understanding.
It sounds like you have a fantastic resource person in the teacher this year; for future reference, we have found the Art of Problem Solving textbooks to be incredibly helpful for the way his brain works. He's doing the prealgebra this year, and I am really wowed by how thoughtfully it has been put together; each problem is set up to let the child think through how math works, really to discover how concepts work and link together. We just hit an explanation for why the adding digits works for figuring out if a number is divisible by nine, and it was such a clearly presented sequence, really elegant and it made sense. No pictures, no manipulatives, just problems themselves that encourage discovery, time to think about it, and then a lengthy walkthrough the problem to demonstrate.
I've also found _The Teaching Gap_ and _The Learning Gap_ to be very interesting reads on how other countries handle teaching algorithms, understanding, and problemsolving differently, and how other strategies might be useful for a child who learns like mine does; I'd recommend them.
But yay! for a great teacher this year. It's so nice to hear that someone really gets how your child learns :)
Heather
Thanks for the great resources, Heather!
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
So, I am kind of butting in, but I sort of randomly ended up reading this thread and was very intrigued.
I was a mildly gifted kid (i.e., with all the high kids, but when we were all grouped together, I would be at the bottom of that group ) I distinctly remember the overwhelming frustration I would experience when a concept didn't 'click' right away, because that was my normal experience. I would be tempted to dump the hard stuff and stick to the things that made me look good, but my parents didn't let me. In the end, it really helped me work with my target kids; those with learning disabilities, because I can better identify with their frustration. (Though I have to admit, I still did not follow the ivyleague paths of my friends...)
I am in NO WAY suggesting your daughter would have wanted to quit math, or avoid it, etc., nor am I trying to minimize her feelings; homework should never regularly cause tears; something isn't working then! I just identified with her frustration. It sounds like you worked really hard with her to overcome that and continue to work toward getting it. In my experience teaching middle school, our ALM team (for gifted kids) always had a (very small) handful of kids with big gaps in their learning where they were not gifted in a particular area, but because of that, they avoided work in that area, and by middle school it was very hard to motivate them; it was very defeating for them.
So glad this worked out well foryour daughter, that she found a method that works for her and experienced success!
I'm really glad, too. She is actually identifying math as one of her favorite subjects, now, even though she has to work at it, whereas last year I was dealing with a can't do attitude. The teacher actually told me she's his best math student (and the only one to have gotten an A, our kid's school only gives out A's for very exceptional work), so the gap may be not as great as it seems. I was a late bloomer with math, myself, and later became one of the few girls in the top running for the National Mathematics competition, very confident in calculus, taught myself binary, etc. So she may be more of a late bloomer than have a huge gap. I don't need IQ testing for enriched learning in our very small school, so I don't have any hard data. It's my older, 2E child (who's on the autistic spectrum) with a really huge gap (and I do have hard data for him). He's very gifted in conceptualizing math. He was doing algebra in grade 2, got off the math wagon for awhile officially, but uses his own invented math all the time when designing structures and working out finances for his business (young entrepreneur). I think she was kind of intimidated by him and that the teacher got her past it. The same teacher managed to get my son for one on one math "help" (as my daughter's classroom teacher is also the school's remedial math teacher) based on the potential for difficulty interpreting word problems incorrectly. Really he just gets him to play with math the whole time, and my son is really enjoying his school year for partly this reason. I think teachers can make a huge difference in how kids look at their abilities.
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
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