What Are Some Tips for Helping Students with Math?

By Staff WriterLast Updated April 24, 2019
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Some students love math — others not so much. In fact, some students find math to be difficult and dislike it so much that they do everything they can to avoid it. Math may feel a little abstract when they’re young, but it involves skills they will need in life long after they’re out of school. That makes math important for more than just a grade on a report card.

Whether you're a parent helping your child at home or a teacher in the classroom, tackling the process with the right teaching methods can make a huge difference. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at these time-tested ways to help students with math.

Build Confidence

Some students who struggle to understand certain math concepts become discouraged and start believing that math simply isn’t for them because they aren’t any good at it. While it’s certainly true that some students understand math concepts more quickly than others, everyone can learn math with the right techniques and tools. Work to build confidence from the outset — perhaps with a fun game that reinforces beginning math concepts — to ensure you take that fundamental first step to helping your child learn and succeed.

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Encourage Curiosity

Big ideas in math tend to naturally inspire curiosity, but curiosity is a valuable tool even for basic concepts. For example, if students are struggling to understand how a fraction with a larger number on bottom could be smaller than a fraction with a smaller number on bottom, introduce some real-life items — like maybe large cookies — and let them explore the differences between dividing something into 10 pieces versus dividing it into four pieces.

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Additionally, letting their curiosity guide them gives them a chance to discover their own passions for the particular subjects they may enjoy most. Be sure to encourage curiosity and questions at all times, especially when you’re helping them with new or challenging concepts.

Raise the Bar

Okay, every student won’t fall in love with math, even after you build their confidence and show them they can learn it. As a result, some may try to get away with only doing the bare minimum to get a passing grade. Don’t let them do it! Instead, raise the bar with even bigger challenges to send a powerful signal that they are always expected to do their best.

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Plan in Advance

For most parents, students bring home specific items as homework, and they simply need to be prepared to help with what they’re given. However, teachers and parents who homeschool follow a curriculum. When that’s the case, it’s vital to look at the topics students need to know for their exams, and it takes some advance planning to make sure you cover all of them in detail. Don’t forget to include plenty of time for questions and allow them time to truly understand the concepts before moving on to the next topic.

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Apply Math to Real-World Scenarios

When you talk to students, it becomes clear that one of the key problems with math for many of them is that it just seems too abstract for them. They feel that way because they don’t understand all the ways math relates to daily life in the real world — so show them! Applying equations, formulas and geometry to common tasks they can see and participate in helps students understand just how important math is in our lives.

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Be Positive

Kids' brains are like sponges, and they absorb all kinds of remarks and suggestions from adults — both positive and negative. It's critical to be vigilant about what you say when it comes to talking about math and helping them with it. Even if you start to feel frustrated yourself, take a short break to relax and then seek guidance from online sources or another person to help you figure it out. Above all, stay positive and don’t express a negative attitude that your child is likely to mimic. With a positive approach, you might be surprised to see how much progress your child starts to make.

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Personalize Math Assignments

Numbers sometimes work in very interesting ways. In short, that means some problems can be solved in more than one way. Giving students some control over how they learn allows them to adapt and incorporate their strengths, and it also conveys your belief in their ability. For example, instead of just giving them an exercise or worksheet to complete, you could prepare several different exercises and let them choose what they want to do. They are far more likely to be enthusiastic about a task they gave themselves.

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Prioritize Understanding, Not Memorization

In the academic world, too much emphasis is sometimes placed on memorizing information for exams. That might work in a history class, but for math, it’s critical to really understand the mathematical concepts to achieve long-term success. If you don’t encourage understanding over memorization from the beginning, students could find themselves on shaky foundations as the math gets progressively harder.

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Reward Progress

No matter what subject you're working on with your child or student, it's important to reward progress. In the sports world, this often comes in the form of medals or trophies. Don’t put off giving them rewards for their hard work! They shouldn’t have to wait until they achieve big things like getting A’s on report cards and outstanding test scores. Reward your student as you go with simple but cool treats like setting up a math game to play on a computer or mobile device in place of a regular study session. They will enjoy it a lot more than a certificate or badge.

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Collaborate with Teachers and Parents

Whether you're a teacher or a parent, it's always a good idea to collaborate with each other. This will keep you on track and help you get past hurdles quickly. Teachers should keep parents informed about exactly what they've been doing in class, while parents — who are generally the ones called on to help out at home on a more one-on-one basis — should seek guidance from teachers and inform them of any problem areas that are particularly challenging.

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