Choosing the Best Homeschool Math Curriculum for a Struggling Student
While these facts might seem like no-brainers to most of us, many children struggle mightily to learn, memorize, and understand basic arithmetic. Arithmetic operations are foundational to future math learning, so it is critical that kids master math facts. Yet often homeschoolers find that at least one child has difficulty with math, and that they have hit a wall. Researchers at the University of Minnesota estimate that 5-10% of children suffer from dyscalculia, a learning disorder that inhibits the basic understanding of numerical and arithmetic concepts. However, it is likely that learning disorders are not the main cause behind the typical child having trouble with math.
For a large majority of children who find arithmetic difficult, it is simply a matter of how the child processes information. Learning specialist Dianne Craft has found that 80% of struggling learners are right brain dominant, due to the fact that most curriculum and learning settings are oriented toward the left-brain oriented individual. Math facts often come naturally for children who tend to be more left brain dominant – the side of the brain that deals with logic, analysis, and linear thought. However it is not uncommon for children who are more right-brain dominant, and therefore process more holistically and imaginatively, to find arithmetic (when it is taught in the traditional fashion) challenging. Whereas left-brain oriented children tend to excel at logical activities such as math and spelling, right-brain oriented children are often are more successful with creative subjects such as art and music. For information on left/right brain processing, as well as some online tests to determine brain dominance characteristics, read the previous articles: "Is Your Child Right-Brain Oriented", or "Right Brained Learners".
Resources for Right-Brained Learning
But what can homeschoolers do for right-brain oriented students who have difficulty with math? Fortunately, the answer is – "a lot"! Simply by changing how mathematical information is presented can have a tremendous affect on the right-brain learner's ability to assimilate and understand it. By using some right-brain oriented strategies and curricula, homeschoolers can help these students be successful in math. There are many wonderful resources for right-brain oriented children, or for those who just find arithmetic challenging. Check out some of these ideas:
- Teach math processes to mastery as whole concepts, rather than repeating and reviewing many math processes in each lesson. Right-brained students tend to learn in chunks rather than in a linear sequence. Consequently, curricula that teach all of one kind of math process until it is mastered (such as Math-U-See) generally are more effective for these students than programs (such as Saxon, Horizons, or A Beka) which introduce multiple concepts and then review in a cyclical fashion (often known as the spiral approach). Some mastery-based math programs include:
- Use music to teach math facts. Children with right-brain characteristics often have an affinity for music, which can be a wonderful learning tool. Create your own fun math songs, or consider Audio Memory Songs to use a musical, right-brained way for kids to memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division facts.
- Use emotion and storytelling to supplement teaching of math concepts. Pairing math facts with stories appeals to the right-brain oriented child's need to learn holistically. Also, stories allow the right-brained learner to form pictures in his mind of the math processes, which aids learning. For ideas on how to use stories to teach math facts, read Dianne Craft's article Right Brain Math.
- Instead of traditional math fact flash cards, which appeal to left-brain oriented learners, consider right-brained flash cards. These flash cards utilize pictures for each number, and accompany each fact with a story. This allows right-brain oriented students to associate the numbers and facts with pictures and stories, thereby increasing his/her memory retention. Consider these right-brained flash cards:
- Bornstein flash cards (which have cards for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division)
- Right Brain Multiplication cards
- Visual Number Cards
- Memory Joggers Multiplication and Division Learning Cards
- Use visual pictures and diagrams to explain math concepts. Draw diagrams as you teach, or have the child draw what he is learning. An example of a right-brain oriented diagram is the Number Wheel by Right Brain Math, or the decimal street by Math-U-See.
- Use color. If students struggle with adding numbers in columns, use a different color for each column (red for hundreds, blue for tens, green for ones, etc.). Different colors can be used for a variety of math processes, to differentiate between numbers/places/processes, and to provide additional visual stimulation for the right-brain oriented student.
- Use manipulatives. Utilize a set of base-10 blocks, counters, an abacus, or other hands-on helps to illustrate how math concepts work. The visual and tactile nature of manipulatives help right-brained students better understand the math principle being explained, and more effectively retain it. Manipulatives can be purchased at most any educational store, including rainbowresource.com. For some printable manipulatives, consider these sites:
- Use modeling. Demonstrate whatever math concept you are teaching before asking the child to perform it. This kinesthetic approach helps the right-brained learner "see" the concept, and thereby better understand it. Modeling is even more effective when the teacher uses manipulatives and hands-on items in the demonstration.
My next post has more right-brained math resources!