Math Monday: Math (Ill)iteracy.


Who said it?

Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.*

A couple years ago, I read an article where the author decried the state of Math in the general public. His point was, people walk around every day saying, “I can’t DO math.” “I don’t LIKE math.” “I never did GET math.” And, this is acceptable. However, if you walk around saying, “I CAN’T read.” “I never did understand HOW to read.” “I HATE to read, so I just DON’T” then people call you stupid. He couldn’t understand why it’s OK to hate math but not reading.

I hated math, because it was so slow and tedious for me. I could tell Naturalist was the same way. But Golfer and Hubby were the opposite…so, what were they doing that Naturalist and I weren’t? I expanded my research by asking other mathletes how they were so good at it…what their methods were. I started discovering common traits among them…common ways of grouping numbers to allow for very quick and accurate computation. They did things naturally with numbers that I hadn’t considered doing…I was still counting on my fingers and getting lost in the slowness of it all. What Natualist and I lacked was fluency:

If a student constantly has to compute the answers to basic facts, less of that student’s thinking capacity can be devoted to higher level concepts than a student who can effortlessly recall the answers to basic facts. For example, a child who is performing multiple-digit division must monitor constantly where he is in that procedure. If the child must use primitive counting strategies to subtract or multiply during the division process, the attention and memory resources devoted to these procedures reduce the student’s ability to monitor and attend to the larger division problem. The result is that the student often fails to grasp the concepts involved in multiple-digit division.

I was mostly finished with my informal mathlete skillz assessment when I found a group of books by Evan Moor that are titled Building Math Fluency, nicely enough. I could have just googled “Math Fluency” and saved myself hours and hours obsessing over this whole thing. But, at least I could appreciate it when I found it!

These do a great job teaching the basic math skills necessary to get to math fluency–the ability to chunk and group numbers together which leads to faster computation with less brain power needed. For instance, these strategies make everything so much easier!!!!:


People like Hubby and Golfer just naturally do this. Naturalist and I have to learn it over and over again until it becomes second nature. So, that’s what we do through some math games.

One of our favorites is from Math Board Games. There’s a sheet of paper with random numbers all over it (word search style), and we do a kind of number search where we take turn circling numbers that add up to 10:

Find the 10's.

This is such a simple skill to learn, but has made the biggest difference in our mathability. It’s much easier to add by 10’s, and so now we search our number problems to find numbers that add up to 10 right away.

Our next two favorite games are from the book Dice Works, a fabulous book that incorporates dice games into math learning. It goes from grades K-8, so I use this book with everyone…Sassy included!

We work with a fun selection of polyhedra dice…the next two games use 10 sided dice (for us, the green color).


Double Trouble has Naturalist and I rolling one 10 sided dice each, and then doubling that number. We like to play for M&M’s. Each right answer gets an M&M, with the chance to get another M&M if we roll a special double: 6= The Dozen Double (12), 7= The Sweetheart Double (14, as in, Valentines Day), 8= Sweet 16 Double, and 9= The Grown Up Double (18). The more chocolate we can put into Math, the more we like it. This game is a quick and easy review, and I’ve found that being able to double quickly has made math much easier and faster. Especially when you can start applying the ‘double plus one’ or ‘double plus 2’ skill to it. Now, 6+8 doesn’t haunt me like it used to. It’s either 6+6+2, or 8+8-2, or even 6+10-2!

Finally, Addition Tick Tack Toe is another quick and easy review of using the math skillz we’re trying to build. For this, we each get an addition chart and two 10 sided dice each. We roll both dice and then add up the two numbers. Once we get the answer, we can put markers (in our case, sparkly jewels from Michaels!) on that number–if we rolled 6+4, then we put markers on the 10 at both 6+4 AND 4+6. This made a kind of symmetry that Naturalist really appreciated! Once you get 3 in a row, you take the markers off and they’re worth one point each. If you roll a number that your opponent is already on, then you get their markers and they’re worth 5 points each!

BUT, no cheating (ie., counting on fingers or counting up by ones). No matter how long it takes, we make sure to answer each roll using one of those strategies. At first, it’s kind of slow and laborious. Old habits are hard to break! But, each time we play, we get a little better at grouping the numbers into 10’s, or finding the doubles, or rounding to 10 and then subtracting or adding.

Math madness

Before doing this, I mistakenly believed that once a math illiterate, always a math illiterate. This could not be further from the truth! Naturalist and I are learning the ways of the mathletes. Our brains are coming around and by jove, we WILL like it! Someday! Soon!

Until we like it, we’ll keep working on it. Using as many M&M’s and sparkly jewels as we can!

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.*

(who said it?)

Click through for past Math Monday posts!

* Albert Einstein! And, Albert Einstein again!


9 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing all the great ideas. Owen and I play addition tic tac toe too!! The number search games and the adding chocolate in….. perfect.

    Okay… must buy ginormous bag of m&m’s now :0)

  2. I want to homeschool and LOVE YOUR BLOG! I’m didn’t like math until I reached algebra. For some reason, I love algebra. I always thought it was amazing you can take these super long problems and condense them down to a few numbers and letters. The sad thing is TEACHERS held me back. Because I was a cheerleader, I was suppose to be dumb according to them. I guess I just want to say, good work with all your research and I hope I can be as dedicated of a mommy teacher!

  3. This is a great post! Thank you!

  4. Hi… All of you fun pictures at flicker and now I have finally found time to visit your great blog!
    I am horrid at math… my husband does all of those get number groups in his head to make things easier! I love all of the ideas you found. Your games are great. I know I am going to be learning right along with the kids on this one!!

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Innumeracy is a big deal. 🙂 Love this post about the natural groupings thing. I’ve been thinking about it lately alot too. That’s what memorizing multiplication tables is supposed to be about, but its gotten twisted into this pressured test for time and at a certain age requirement.

  6. I have a documented math learning disability and it greatly hinders my ability to solve complex problems. It is exactly what you stated in your post, because I don’t have the “instant recall” that other people do so effortlessly it becomes this huge project to solve seemingly simple problems. I hope my children don’t have these problems and want my husband to start doing some supplemental math games like these at home with my daughters! Great post.

  7. What a fantastic blog…I’ve got the science and nature areas down pat and teach it to my girls daily….math on the other hand, I struggle! I just found your blog today and will spend the evening exploring. Thank you so much!

  8. Hi Friend.
    Wanted to let you know that this spurred an idea for me, and I linked to you.

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