SUBJECT: Mathematics

This newsletter is specifically addressed to parents and teachers involved in introducing children to the important world of mathematics. Please don't shut down. Trust me! Keep reading.

So much stress is put on reading at an early age, that the importance of numbers gets relegated to the back burner. And I mean way back. It is always risky to make generalizations but it is safe to say that amongst most women and some men, the general distaste for things numerical is almost pathological.  This attitude pervades amongst mothers  and grammar school teachers to an extraordinary degree creating a general feeling of insecurity when dealing with things numerical.

And it is this attitude that causes problems for students new to the subject. After all, if you, as an adult, have a general fear, insecurity,  and distaste for a subject, how can you expect your students to enjoy and learn it with confidence.

Relax!  The Math Maven is here!  First let’s deal with attitude.

If you’re convinced you have no head for numbers, you are wrong. Everybody has a head for numbers. Now, initially, we’re not talking rocket science. We’re talking very basic mathematics, otherwise known as arithmetic.

Much can be taught to a pre-schooler through observation. No books necessary. For example:

There is a wonderful thing called a Fibonacci curve (pronounced fib-oh-nachy). In the spring, if there are ferns coming up near you, observe the coiled-up fern leaf. It is the spiral called  the Fibonacci curve. If you have a nautilus shell sliced in half, that is a Fibonacci curve. So is the top of a violin. Every  flower that opens, opens in a Fibonacci spiral. Perhaps you are familiar with the double helix on which DNA is based. Well, a helix is a Fibonacci curve. There’s more but we’ll discuss that later.

By using this method of observation, you are teaching that mathematical forms are all around you. Thus, you are teaching a comfortable familiarity with numbers, preparing the child for further adventures with numbers.

If you are a parent or a grammar school teacher, opening the world of math to youngsters is important and not difficult.  Remember, we are not discussing exotic mathematical theories. We are talking nothing further than the 4 basic operations:  addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

If the basics are taught early, math becomes a pleasure later on.  Up to the kindergarten age, children count things out. The abstract concept of integers (i.e. whole numbers like 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9…) is the next step.  The best assistant to this transition is Cuisenaire Rods. The sooner children begin “playing” with them, the better.  Once familiarity is achieved , I recommend  Hidden Rods/Hidden Numbers. The first set of exercises does NOT involve numbers – just relationships. A neat transition to the second set of exercises which introduces the concept of the rods as representing numbers.

Mathematics for 1st through 3rd grades

Cuisenaire rods have been around for over 40 years. They are not manipulatives or any other new-fangled device. They are Cuisenaire rods - period. Their success has been reaffirmed over and over again. Fractions are understood in the first grade using the rods. Just imagine. There are 3 excellent  guides (K-2, 3-4, 5-6 grades) to assist you in understanding their use.  NO! Other devices do not compare for a multitude of reasons.

From the First grade level onward, I recommend the Mad Minute. Once the concept of numbers has been established, the Mad Minute is a  brilliant solution to the problem of number drill. It makes a contest between the student and the clock to nail down the 4 arithmetic functions. They enjoy it and achieve a great sense of accomplishment. (Yes, access to a copy machine is essential).

If you do a bang-up job of teaching the basics: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, your students will be ready to tackle problem-solving, set theory, advanced math concepts, estimation, etc. in grades 4,5, and 6.

There are other excellent publications to brighten up the arithmetic day. First on the list is  Adventures of Penrose, The Mathematical Cat by Theoni Pappas. Useful from first grade onwards, this book presents several mathematical observations and projects in an  easily understood format.You will enjoy them and so will the students.

For example, try this one for yourself and for your students  who have mastered the 4 basic operations.
The Square of 15:

The object: to arrange the numbers 1 to 9 so that they add up to 15 in every direction. This book is filled with much more, and great for grades 1-6.

All the books and tools recommended are always available at Books Ink. We can be reached at all times at BOOKSINK@AOL.COM ;or by phone at 207/361-2602; or by FAX at 207/361-2808.

FYI: We maintain a serious collection of books on various mathematical subjects for all levels of ability and interest.

We would be delighted to hear from you with suggestions, questions or comments. Our e-mail address is: BooksInk@aol.com. We look forward to your correspondence.