Simple Math ... a Simple Gift

Written By: Rachel Strong
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Math affects every aspect of our lives-from balancing the checkbook to estimating the amount of sales tax at the grocery store. While we may not use Algebra regularly (and no one can convince me there's a practical use for geometry), simple math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) is used on a daily basis.

So if it is so useful, why are our kids failing math, and why is the U.S. behind nearly every other developed country in terms of math scores?

One of the reasons is that kids-like adults-don't like to do things that may seem useless. Very few school kids realize how much they will use math in their adult life. Parents, also, have nightmares of trains heading in different directions at different speeds, and that fear of math homework can be transferred to our children. Also, according to the kids, cell phones have calculators, so what is the point of doing math in one's head?

No longer is math restricted to trains leaving St. Louis and Chicago heading to New York. Thankfully, math homework is much different, but can be hard when one does not have a head for numbers. But, as with everything else, practice makes perfect-so make it a point for your student to practice the simple math.

This doesn't mean you have to rush out and get the newest math books or tutoring programs and force your children to work endless problems. There are many ways to help your child practice the skills they will use every day of their life. Here are a few examples:

VIDEO GAMES

If your child enjoys video games in which you need to raise money (or points, gold, etc.) to purchase needed items, have your student keep a notebook handy to add up the total (or count down from the total amount). This works best if the total is not shown on the screen.

As a personal example, my favorite video game is DragonQuest VIII for the PlayStation 2, where you have to fight monsters to get money and experience points. The last run-through, I kept track of my experience points (counting down from the next level-up amount) so I knew when the next level-up would be. Just a little exercise like that helped me shave a few minutes off my last checking account reconciliation.

SPORTS

If your student lives and breathes sports, and loves to watch games with you, this can also be a teaching time. Here are a few examples of how you can make math fun.

-BASKETBALL: At the end of each quarter, add the total number of points scored, then divide by the number of minutes played (12, 24, 36, 48) to calculate the average number of points scored per minute. (Example: In a recent Timberwolves @ Trail Blazers game, at the end of the third quarter the T-Wolves were up 74 to 69. The average number of points scored per minute would be: 3.9)

-FOOTBALL: Calculate how many points your team is ahead (or behind) and then figure how many touchdowns, field goals, etc. that would be needed to tie (or lead) the game.

-BASEBALL: Calculate the number of bases run on a single hit (single, double, triple, home run), then calculate the average per inning.

SHOPPING

Give your child your budgeted amount (i.e. grocery budget, clothing budget), and have him or her keep a running total to make sure you don't go over the budgeted amount.

GAS MILEAGE

Teach your child how to calculate gas mileage (gallons to fill the tank divided by miles driven) or the cost per mile (mileage divided by cost per gallon).

These are just a few examples. Any simple math you do on a regular basis, you can adapt for your child.

The quickest way to a child that hates any subject is to tell him or her that he or she will never use their knowledge-which is just not true. Math is everywhere, and we should be encouraging our children to use it early and often.

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