Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Key to Unlocking Math Confusion...All of Those Words

After teaching for 13 years I think I have finally found one of the main confusing culprits for students in mathematics...all of that vocabulary.  Factors, products, addends, sums, minuends, subtrahends, quotient, dividend, divisor, greater than, less than, greatest common factor, least common multiple, acute, obtuse, supplementary, etc etc etc...

Teaching sixth grade it has finally hit me.  They need to know these words . They need to hear them, use them, become comfortable with them.  They need to be part of every lesson.  Every day they need to hear the old ones, the new ones, and even some crazy ones.  They need to be challenged to find out what perfect, deficient, and abundant numbers are.  Prime numbers, composite, even and odd need to be ingrained in their brains.

The thing is, I needed to learn all of these terms.  The school of education didn't cover them.  New teacher training skipped this section. Even if I was told, I'm sure there were more pressing matters. It took some independent reading and classroom discovery to realize this fact.   I didn't know.  In reading we have learned to front load vocabulary.  Teaching math I always felt I needed to jump in and teach. Vocabulary was an afterthought.  I knew students were getting confused with Least Common Multiples and Greatest Common Factors,  but I needed to push on!

Now we stop and take the time.  We stop and study these words.  They are part of our daily routine.

I need to go study now.  Tomorrow: Factors in multiplication and how they are visually represented along with composing and decomposing higher value units.


  1. Great piece. You hit the nail on the head with your observation regarding vocabulary. I used to see such frustration in children who had 'reading' problems but who were otherwise good at math. No one (including some special ed teachers, unfortunately) could understand why that kind of student struggled with math concepts outside of number concepts. Seems so obvious, doesn't it? Hang in there, Tim. Students need a teacher like you!

  2. It's still Greek to me! But it makes such perfect sense. Front loading...always filling them with places to put all this stuff inside those brains of theirs! I'm wondering if their brains will actually weigh more than those of people say...25 years ago! As frustratingly overwhelming as it can get sometimes, I still get such a charge out of uncovering a way into their heads. George is right, they are lucky to have you!