# Having trouble helping your kids with maths? Q&A with maths expert and co-author of Maths On the Go Rob Eastaway

(32 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 18-Jan-16 12:31:24

We're running a Q&A this week with Rob Eastaway, co-author of Maths On The Go with Mike Askew. If you're having trouble helping your child build their confidence in maths or have a real maths conundrum of your own, tap into Rob's knowledge and post a question on this thread before Monday 25 January. We'll upload his answers to your questions on 1st Feb.

Rob’s books include Maths For Mums and Dads and How Many Socks Make a Pair. He is the Director of Maths Inspiration and a regular on BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live talking about the maths of everyday life. His latest book Maths on the Go (co-written with Mike Askew) offers 101 simple tips, games and activities to make practising maths more enjoyable and engaging for both you and your child. Rob has recently shared some of his tips on how to help your child learn their times tables.

OP’s posts: |
FoxInABox Mon 18-Jan-16 17:44:49

What does it mean to put 1.9 in an image?

Rae1000 Tue 19-Jan-16 11:56:42

Hi, my question is more general & I am really hoping you can help. My daughter (year 3) struggles with maths. One of the biggest problems I find that it seems to be as soon as she has got one thing under her belt (say division) & she then moves on to times tables...she then completely forgets the division. Reall could do with some help as it baffles us. Thanks

PurpleThermalsNowItsWinter Tue 19-Jan-16 12:57:02

My Ds is yr2, 6yrs old (August baby), loves maths and science but is struggling. My questions are;
1) he can add in units but whenever there's a single digit (say 102 + 8) he'll turn it into 800 or 80 instead of 008. How do I talk to him about this as he gets really upset and frustrated (he's a perfectionist so if it's not right the first time he's NEVER going to be able to do it - his tantrum).
2)how do I teach division in a fun way? I'm trying to reinforce his tables by flipping it around with division, eg 2x12=24 , 24 divided into 2=12
3) how can I relate maths into science experiments that he loves? Baking yummy things just enough enough anymore.

houseHuntinginmanchester Tue 19-Jan-16 22:04:28

Thank you for the tips on learning time tables, I've picked up some good tips that I'll be implementing with my dd.

My question is about my 6 yr old dd who is in yr2. Although she is in the top set, she is towards the bottom of the top set if you see what I mean, and I am told she is often supported by an adult. However when we work at home, she seems to get the hang of new ideas and skills very quickly and I make sure she works independently just to check her understanding, which she always completed successfully.

My question then is, What activities (general or specific) could I do with dd that will bring her along at school and get her working more independently and confidently? Thank you

SummerLightning Wed 20-Jan-16 13:30:07

How can I hide my frustration when sometimes I feel like I am teaching Baldrick maths? (What's 2 beans and 2 beans? Some beans).

I have tried hiding maths in every day activities and the older one spots it straight away (Mummy you are trying to do maths again...). I love maths and they are not interested... (They are 7 (Y2) and 5 (Y1)). Sob

Theydontknowweknowtheyknow Thu 21-Jan-16 06:57:52

My son can't remember sequences. He has to count to remember that 11 is before 12.

He can't remember his times tables. No sooner remembered then they are forgotten. He has no feel for numbers and can't seem to break them down into factors.

DrewsWife Thu 21-Jan-16 13:36:14

I am struggling with long division. Eg 954/23 etc.

I have an entrance exam for uni and could use a system to help me work it out.

I have no issues doing other forms of maths.

Something in the back of my head says an an acronym damson?? But it's been 20 plus years since I left school...

I've also got a question about my child's enthusiasm and aptitude for maths.

She's a bright girl, and thinks in a similar way to me in a lot of ways. It took me until I was about 25 to start enjoying maths, as I had to apply it in a working situation while managing some complex budgets. Until then, I always believed it "wasn't my strong point". Now I run two businesses, produce and manage tricky cash flows and also produce projections. You'd literally have knocked me over with a feather if you'd told me I'd be doing this in my teens.

My dd (8) is struggling with everything maths related. She doesn't seem to have the knowledge yet to make mental shortcuts or to retain her times tables. I know she's academically capable of learning everything she's been given, and I believe the problem lies more in her enthusiasm for the subject. She groans when there's maths related homework, and complains when they've been doing maths in class. She also thinks she's "not good at it". Having been there myself, I really want to light a spark if I can, and am actively looking for ways to do this! In younger days, I could have initiated games in the car, or at teatime and she would have eagerly joined in, but these days she's more likely to roll her eyes at me and refuse to join in.

An you suggest a couple of ways I can spark her interest, and give her a sense of achievement which might spur her on and make her want to engage more actively with numbers and maths?

I should have mentioned her cousin does kumon and yes, she can parrot off all sorts of sums, but the actual routine of kumon seems to suck the joy out of it so I don't want to go down that road!

naytaali Fri 22-Jan-16 18:03:27

hi, my 14 yr old just received his xmas exam results & they were very bad. i don't know how to motivate him to do well & all he seems interested in is video games. he needs to up his grades if he wants to do well at GCSE level . it seems like i am constantly taking away privileges with no effect whatsoever

Footofthestairs Sat 23-Jan-16 06:21:58

What do you feel are the key core skills for a KS1 child to have got consolidated before moving up to KS2? What would be a way to help a child who is struggling with maths and feels left behind at school as the current pace of maths on the curriculum is beyond their capabilities?

TooMuchOfEverything Sun 24-Jan-16 09:32:15

I have a copy of Maths for Mums and Dads - it's really helpful. If DC need help and are saying that their teacher 'didn't explain it' I'll get the book out and go through it with them. They then seem to recognise what I am talking about and it clicks that they did learn it after all.

Before we had The Book I would be googling under the table and trying to show them in my way which isn't how it's taught anymore and we all ended up stressed and confused.

Do you do a version for secondary school maths too?

AuntieBulgaria Sun 24-Jan-16 23:39:34

My daughter gets so cross in the face of any maths homework.

Before she's even given it a chance, she does random guesses and gets frustrated.

If we can get past the fury, she's normally perfectly capable of working it out but already aged 8 claims to hate maths.

If she practiced more, she'd feel more confident but how do we deal with this barrier she's already constructing?

Literacy homework she'll run off in 10 minutes, practicing the 8 times tables today took 20 mins of arguments before we got started.

Morningbear Mon 25-Jan-16 10:32:45

My daughter has maths GCSE coming up and has always had real difficulties with maths. She works so hard but just got her mock results back and got a D. Have you any tips on maths revision and also on exam technique that can help her bring it up to a pass rate?

Dungandbother Mon 25-Jan-16 20:17:47

What wonky said exactly. I had no need for maths in school. I'm very literate. I didn't know my tables. Or basic addition off the top of my head and I use a calculator now. So it was all rather pointless.

I now use maths a lot at work, basic percentages, lots of excel and adding up. Manage huge budgets. And I'm good at it. Because I have a use for it, I know more.

DD age 8 Yr 4 cannot retain number facts.
Not her number bonds nor her tables.
She's an excellent speller though. And her grammar is also great. She's within top sets but because she's fairly smart and accesses curriculum with her excellent literacy skills. Maths is such a struggle and she always counts on her fingers.

What sort of help is there for this child ? Why is there so much hype about dyslexia but not dyscalculia?

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 01-Feb-16 11:34:57

Thanks to all those who joined the Q&A.

OP’s posts: |
RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 13:46:35

Rae1000

Hi, my question is more general & I am really hoping you can help. My daughter (year 3) struggles with maths. One of the biggest problems I find that it seems to be as soon as she has got one thing under her belt (say division) & she then moves on to times tables...she then completely forgets the division. Reall could do with some help as it baffles us. Thanks

Rob: This is a very common problem, so you are not alone. It’s easy to think that when your child has ‘done’ the four times table then that’s it, move on to the next thing. But the truth is that for these ideas to stick, you have to go back to them again and again, and practice is really important. Don’t rely on your school doing this – for things like times tables, find ways of practising these at home. In our book ‘Maths on the Go’ we have several ideas for games that you can play to revise times tables in those odd moments you have together such as waiting in the supermarket queue, or going into school. The secret is to make these light-hearted and fun, so although in a way you are testing your child, it doesn’t feel like it. When in Year 3, my son particularly enjoyed our games of ‘Who Wants to be a Mathionaire?’. I’d set a jackpot of (say) 20p. But the first question would be for a prize of something tiny, like 1/10thof a penny. ‘What’s 2 x 4?’. Every time he got a question right, the prize might double but the questions would get harder – and like the TV show he could at any point stop and take the money. The jackpot (20p) question for a Year 3 child should be one that you know they’ve been struggling with but that they can definitely get right with a bit of thought.Depending on how strong they are, that question might be‘What is 6 x 12?’ or ‘How many 5s in 35?’or ‘What is half a cake plus one third of a cake?’.

Mike Askew adds: You can also help your daughter to see connections - if you know, say, 3 x 4 = 12, then talk about how that means she also knows the answers to 4 x 3 and 12 ÷ 3 and 12 ÷ 4. But it doesn’t stop there. 3 x 4 = 12, so 30 x 40 = 1200. Play with this idea with outrageous numbers. 3000 x 4000 anyone?

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 13:49:27

PurpleThermalsNowItsWinter

My Ds is yr2, 6yrs old (August baby), loves maths and science but is struggling. My questions are;
1) he can add in units but whenever there's a single digit (say 102 + 8) he'll turn it into 800 or 80 instead of 008. How do I talk to him about this as he gets really upset and frustrated (he's a perfectionist so if it's not right the first time he's NEVER going to be able to do it - his tantrum).
2)how do I teach division in a fun way? I'm trying to reinforce his tables by flipping it around with division, eg 2x12=24 , 24 divided into 2=12
3) how can I relate maths into science experiments that he loves? Baking yummy things just enough enough anymore.

Rob: Your ‘loves maths’ bit is important here. It means he will be prepared to have a go and be challenged. Specific thoughts for your three questions:
1) Part of his problem is perhaps that to him numbers are abstract things that he hasn’t got a handle on. Why not turn those numbers 102 and 8 into something more tangible, like money. ‘You have 102 pence and you add 8 pence, what do you have now?’ Now he should be able to see what’s going on, and if he doesn’t, get some money out of your purse. Then go back to the abstract numbers and do another calculation, so he begins to see that the two concepts are the same.

2) You’re absolutely right to be helping him to see that division and multiplication (including times tables) are two sides of the same thing. One of the simplest ways to make dry division calculations fun is to add some silliness. I know that my kids generally much prefer it if, instead of me asking ‘What is 24 divided by 3’ I say ‘If you have 24 groddles and you are sharing them between you and your two friends, how many will you get each?’ ‘What’s a groddle, dad?’ ‘Oh, they are the most delicious sweet that was ever invented’. The calculation can then be interspersed with chat about what this perfect sweet might be like.

3) We’ve got some great examples in our book of scientific experiments you can do together: you can use a folded crisp packet to work out the height of a tree; at bathtime, work out how high you can get the squeezy duck to squirt water; if you walk diagonally across a crossroads junction instead of going across the two pedestrian crossings at right angles, ‘how much distance did you save?’. And of course science is a great opportunity to practise doing very accurate measurements of weight, height and volume – lots of maths there!

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 13:50:25

houseHuntinginmanchester

Thank you for the tips on learning time tables, I've picked up some good tips that I'll be implementing with my dd.

My question is about my 6 yr old dd who is in yr2. Although she is in the top set, she is towards the bottom of the top set if you see what I mean, and I am told she is often supported by an adult. However when we work at home, she seems to get the hang of new ideas and skills very quickly and I make sure she works independently just to check her understanding, which she always completed successfully.

My question then is, What activities (general or specific) could I do with dd that will bring her along at school and get her working more independently and confidently? Thank you

Rob: I think the important thing here is that your six-year-old seems happy and confident with maths at home, so the issue might be more to do with what happens in the classroom. Keep doing what you are doing, maybe adding in some of the games and activities mentioned elsewhere in this Q&A and in our ‘Maths on the Go’ book. The fact that you are happy with how she’s doing will build her confidence, and solving maths problems with her in daily life (when shopping, for example) will give her strategies for problem solving.

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 13:52:42

SummerLightning

How can I hide my frustration when sometimes I feel like I am teaching Baldrick maths? (What's 2 beans and 2 beans? Some beans).

I have tried hiding maths in every day activities and the older one spots it straight away (Mummy you are trying to do maths again...). I love maths and they are not interested... (They are 7 (Y2) and 5 (Y1)). Sob

Rob: Ha! I feel your pain. Sometimes parents who love maths can try too hard to enthuse their kids (I plead guilty here, on occasion). I certainly recognise the situation of your child spotting your attempts to sneak in some maths. Without doubt, the most effective technique for me to get around this has been making maths into a game. See my earlier suggestion about ‘Who wants to be a mathionaire?’. I suppose you could regard that game as a bit of a bribe – if you get all the questions right you’ll win 20p, and while I know parental bribes are a slippery slope, in this case I think it’s justified (and 20p every couple of weeks is hardly going to corrupt your child).
And your eldest is still only in Year 2 – surely not too old for being playful with you. With my Year 1 daughter (and her elder siblings when they were younger) I started using my hands as an improvised puppet. That has worked incredibly well. My hand (who plays the role of ‘Richard Smith – the only mathematician in the village’) sets a maths question, such as 4 plus 3, and claims that ONLY HE knows the answer to this question. With a cackle he then marches off under the table, or behind the cereal box. My youngest and I can then collaborate in working out the answer. When Richard Smith returns, she takes great delight in telling him the answer, and he disappears in a huff. The beauty of puppets is that they can play the role of village idiot or the evil enemy, allowing you and your child to be on the same side.

Mike Askew adds: And why not turn the tables - get your children to teach you the maths they have been learning in school. Whether we like it or not, as far as children are concerned their teacher is always right! When getting them to talk about the maths they are learning at school, play ‘dumb’ (in fact you may genuinely feel dumb!). You don’t understand, so can they explain it again?

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 13:53:54

Theydontknowweknowtheyknow

My son can't remember sequences. He has to count to remember that 11 is before 12.

He can't remember his times tables. No sooner remembered then they are forgotten. He has no feel for numbers and can't seem to break them down into factors.

Rob: How old is your son? If he’s six or seven this is not that unusual, if he’s ten then you have more of a challenge on your hands. For young children, it’s great to build counting into your everyday routine, so that numbers become absolutely routine. I like counting steps with my youngest. When we go upstairs we count up (one, two, three…to thirteen) and when descending we count down (thirteen, twelve, eleven…down to one). That’s made her familiar with twelve being a higher number than eleven. When my son was younger, he used to love rocket countdowns, which we’d do together (Thunderbirds was great for this). Factors are a more challenging concept. Again, staircases can be useful. If you have 12 stairs then you can count up them in twos, threes or fours (giant steps) and still end on the top step. But if, like me, you have 13 stairs, then twos, threes and fours always leave one step left over. That’s because 13 is a prime number, it has no factors except 1 and 13. So in my household, the definition of a prime number is a staircase where you can only climb it with one single ginormous step.

Mike Askew adds: With times tables, he may benefit from finding other routes to the answers. Find something he can remember - most children can recall doubles, or five times or ten times a number. So, say he knows ten times six is 60. Then nine times six is going to be 6 less than 60, which is 54. You could write down the facts that he knows onto slips paper and put these together in an old envelope. Then practise and reinforce the facts that he does know to build up his confidence, adding one or two new, related ones, each time.

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 13:55:48

DrewsWife

I am struggling with long division. Eg 954/23 etc.

I have an entrance exam for uni and could use a system to help me work it out.

I have no issues doing other forms of maths.

Something in the back of my head says an an acronym damson?? But it's been 20 plus years since I left school...

Rob: Before offering any tips, I’d just like to say that in the grand scheme of learning maths, struggling with manual methods for long division is NOT something you should worry about. Somebody once said: ‘Anyone who has done two long divisions in their life has done one too many’. Calculators were invented for a reason!

When it comes to hard divisions such as 954/23, the most important skill is being to estimate roughly what the answer is. I like to use a technique I call Zequals, in which you round every number to ‘one significant figure’ to make the calculations far easier. In your case, 954 becomes 1000, and 23 becomes 20. 1000 divided by 20 equals 50 (I’d encourage everyone to learn how to do calculations like that in their head), and therefore the answer to 954/23 is going to be not far from 50 (maybe 40 ish?). There is a classic, traditional method for doing long division, and a quick search on Youtube would find you a good tutorial of somebody demonstrating the method methodically. What I would NOT recommend is learning an acronym for long division. These maths memory aids usually only have a short term benefit, as you are using the technique without understanding how it works – and unless you practise long division regularly, you’ll quickly forget any acronym as sure as night follows day.

By the way, don’t confuse long division with short division, eg 184 divided by 7. I think short division is a much more useful skill, and it’s worth practising it in written form AND, if and when you’re confident, doing it in your head. If you want to learn more about how long division works, read our book ‘Maths for Mums and Dads’.

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 14:23:21

I've also got a question about my child's enthusiasm and aptitude for maths.

She's a bright girl, and thinks in a similar way to me in a lot of ways. It took me until I was about 25 to start enjoying maths, as I had to apply it in a working situation while managing some complex budgets. Until then, I always believed it "wasn't my strong point". Now I run two businesses, produce and manage tricky cash flows and also produce projections. You'd literally have knocked me over with a feather if you'd told me I'd be doing this in my teens.

My dd (8) is struggling with everything maths related. She doesn't seem to have the knowledge yet to make mental shortcuts or to retain her times tables. I know she's academically capable of learning everything she's been given, and I believe the problem lies more in her enthusiasm for the subject. She groans when there's maths related homework, and complains when they've been doing maths in class. She also thinks she's "not good at it". Having been there myself, I really want to light a spark if I can, and am actively looking for ways to do this! In younger days, I could have initiated games in the car, or at teatime and she would have eagerly joined in, but these days she's more likely to roll her eyes at me and refuse to join in.

An you suggest a couple of ways I can spark her interest, and give her a sense of achievement which might spur her on and make her want to engage more actively with numbers and maths?

Rob: One of the most frustrating things with maths is how often people only discover its relevance (and that it can sometimes be fun) when they have left school - so your story is a familiar one. Your efforts to engage your daughter in maths games in early years sound great but yes, the older the child gets, the harder it can be to introduce these without that eye rolling. But she’s still only eight – I hope you’ve got a couple of years before the real cynicism (might) kick in. In our books we have some examples of magic tricks – for example ‘Think of a number….double it….add 10…divided your answer by two….take away the number you first thought of…and you have finished on (drum roll)….FIVE.’ Assuming she followed the instructions, she will have ended on five and most eight year olds find this exciting. If she didn’t end on five, ask her what her starting number was, and go through the steps with her to discover where the slip was. This sort of trick is engaging and provokes curiosity. You can extend it to start inventing ‘new’ tricks that end on a different number (for example if you add 12 instead of 10, the final number is always six).
Meanwhile, I know what you mean about Kumon. Some parents swear by it, and sometimes nothing is better for confidence in arithmetic than just doing lots and lots of practice. But this sort of forced tuition can make maths feel like a chore for many children. Online games where you need to solve maths problems in order to progress (my kids love Flappy Bird maths, for example) can be more fun and motivating.

Mike Askew adds: To give her more of a sense of achievement, use the word ‘yet’. When your daughter says she cannot do it, remind her of all the things she used not be able to do (walk, ride a bike, write her name) - it's the same with maths, there are some things she just cannot do yet. Alongside this make it clear that speed is not the be-all-and-end-all - too many children think they cannot do maths because they don’t get the answer as quickly as others. It’s one of the most damaging myths about maths that you are only good if you are quick.

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 14:24:11

naytaali

hi, my 14 yr old just received his xmas exam results & they were very bad. i don't know how to motivate him to do well & all he seems interested in is video games. he needs to up his grades if he wants to do well at GCSE level . it seems like i am constantly taking away privileges with no effect whatsoever

Rob: Motivation sometimes involves carrots and sticks, and it sounds like your sticks aren’t working, so this calls for some carrots. But what are the carrots for a disillusioned 14 year old? There’s no easy answer to this, but he could probably do with two things: experience of being ‘successful’ in some maths, and a better sense of why maths will ever be of use to him after school. Many teenagers rightly question what’s the point of learning the tangent of an angle when they’ll probably never use it again as an adult (and they’re right, they probably won’t.) So it’s worth being realistic about which maths is useful merely because it’ll get you a good grade at GCSE, and which maths is useful because it will help you in life. The latter includes anything to do with arithmetic, estimation, ratios and percentages, measurement and statistics. And point out that whatever he thinks of GCSE maths content being useful, the fact is that just about ANY career these days requires you to have a decent maths GCSE grade before they’ll consider you.
In terms of success, maybe you can get him involved in tackling real challenges you have in day to day life. Buying a phone? Find the best deal, and decide if the warranty is worth buying or just a rip-off. Doing some decorating? Get him involved in doing measurements, how much paint will be needed. If the end result is something he cares about, he’ll be keen to do the maths as a means to an end. If you have a sense of what sort of career he might be interested in, there are some good resources out there with people talking about how they have used maths in their working lives (www.mathscareers.org.uk is one example).

Mike Askew adds: Researchers have found that the best thing for getting you motivated to do a task is simply to start doing it. Once you start, motivation kicks in. So, ask your son to only do five minutes of maths (and in the first few instances stick to your word - done five minutes, ok, back to a video game). All being well, that five minutes starts to grow to ten and even more.

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