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Can you teach a child to "See" numbers in their head?

(18 Posts)
stopkickingthatmackerel Thu 11-Aug-11 21:42:15

Or is it a case of either you can or you can't? To elaborate, my 10 year-old DC really struggles with mental maths/times tables and I find it frustrating when talking to her that she cannot seem to picture the numbers in her head. I am not claiming to be a whizz at maths by any means but my mental addition or working out prices in the supermarket, whatever, is good and I tell her that I have a kind of number line in my head, with tens , hundreds and thusands etc demarcated by being a bit bigger (hope I dont sound weird hmm) when I have to work something out; with her she just can not visualise what are, essentially, meaningless numbers and get a perspective of comparisons in fractions or decimals. We do try to help by practicing x tables and she is getting a little better but is still below the standard expected of her age when I look in workbooks for her age - there is no way she could do some of the stuff in year 6 books, as she will be come September.

Apart from slogging away, verbally and writing down, what else can we try? BTW she will not do stuff on the computer, full stop.


PenelopePitstops Thu 11-Aug-11 22:07:59

Get her to draw them out on a number line, whilst it may seem babyish it really works in the log run. Start practising number bonds to 10 and 20 so they become known facts. (when doing this include all numbers on the number line)
Then practice going over the 10.
eg 7 +5 breaks into 7 +3 makes 10 then another 2 makes 12. this is hard to explain without drawing but draw a blank line starting from 0 and do the jumps, from 0 to 7, then 7 to 10 and then 12. this may help her understand how to cross the tens 'barrier'.
28+4 would be 28 +2 is 30 then another 2 is 32.

times tables can just be learnt by rote, but also get her to draw out 4 lots of 5 and then count them. Keep practising and the hard work will pay off.

fractions i would start very basic, use something concrete like a pizza and split it into halves, quarters. Use a 0.1 increment number line to then find half of one etc.

Slogging away is often the only way, try not to put her off by doing too much. You say she cannot imagine the tens units etc which make things difficult for her, maths is very abstract. Use lots of visuals if you can, practising money games are good and looking at more informal things like how many 20ps make up £1 all help. Keep things informal too.

PenelopePitstops Thu 11-Aug-11 22:08:15

apols for spelling and punct, on phone!

Ferguson Thu 11-Aug-11 22:11:51

I think the majority of children find numeracy harder than Lit - which is strange really, as in maths you deal with facts and answers are either right or wrong. I was an Infant sch Teaching Assistant for ten years, but I've been involved with schools for over 20 years, and - as you probably know - curriculum, methods and testing are constantly changing.

I will answer in more detail sometime, but for now take her back to the beginning: create number patterns with counters, Lego bricks, pasta shapes, whatever. Try to make numbers MEAN something real, rather than abstract concepts. If the connection isn't there with REAL things to start with, it is difficult to make the leap to mental abstracts.

(I don't doubt our MN teachers will reply to you - mrz is brilliant - but I will send more in a day or two, if it looks like I can still be of any help.)


tinytalker Thu 11-Aug-11 22:15:59

There is a method of teaching mathematics which is pretty standard in Japan, China & Korea. This is based on a traditional abacus/bead frame/soroban.
They start to use it from an early age manipulating the beads when calculating sums. By the time they are middle school age they can make very complex calculations mentally because they have a mental picture of the abacus in their head with which to make the calculations. You can find some examples on You Tube which are quiet amazing if you types in 'soroban/sorobanne. As a teacher I find this type of approach fascinating and something which I would like to use with my reception/Yr1 class. It might be something you could explore, I know there are some classes in this country which employ this method or you could buy an abacus and see if the visual representation of number clicks into place for her. At her age it might be best to try and find a 'grown up' looking abacus and present it to her as the original calculator which will never run out of battery power!.

stopkickingthatmackerel Fri 12-Aug-11 09:52:12

Thanks for the replies, much appreciated. I find myself wondering how she got to year 4 before realising things were wrong sad. Will try the number line ideas, and objects, and look at the abacus - sounds good.

stopkickingthatmackerel Fri 12-Aug-11 09:54:06

Just to add, she was a 2a in year 2 - so above average shock !! By way of comparison she is high 4/borderline 5 for lit and science and good at all other "writey" subjects.

mrz Fri 12-Aug-11 10:13:38

have a look at the free resources for Big Maths it's all common sense ideas for learning those essential facts and methods to become faster at mental calculations and understanding number

twentypoundsover Fri 12-Aug-11 15:22:33

I swear by having a number square to 100 on the back of the loo door downstairs and a multiplication chart on the back of the loo door upstairs. When DS1 is sitting having one of his lengthy loo visits, there isn't anything else for him to look at so he absorbs this by osmosis :D

maree1 Fri 12-Aug-11 16:45:46

twentypoundsover's tip works. Children will begin to identify the number patterns. At least it worked for us too.

Ferguson Fri 12-Aug-11 22:26:45

Hi again -

looks like you doing OK, and I thought mrz would be able to help!

I also notice in the preamble articles in MN that Pearson is doing a Maths feature, which might be worth a look.

Incidentally, why won't she use computer to help?? And does she play any musical instruments - a lot of music is involved with numbers, and people good at music are frequently good a maths.

blackeyedsusan Fri 12-Aug-11 23:32:46

sounds like she has missed out doing something earlier on. some children need to do maths with practical things before they can visualise it in their heads. times tables need to be done with groups of objects (we use raisins at home as then dd gets to eat them! ) division/sharing fairly caan be done this waay too.

we have had difficulty working out change recently, not knowing which amount went in the till and and which bit was to go to the shop keeper. in the end I drew out 10 coins on a strip of paper and dd cut off the bit that went into the till and counted the rest. we then went on to paying with a 10 pence coin (cue tears) so immeditely swapped to a 5p coin which we then exchanged for 5 ones in a line, then swapped the coins for the thing being bought and counting what was left.

of course this example may not be relevent to your dd, but the principle is the same. try and break it down into simple steps. starting with something fairly easy that can be done practically. if it is too hard and upsetting, try to go back a stage further until it is something that she can do confidently. having had tears over a 10p earlier a few minutes later she was able to try aand succeed at giving change for a 10p without noticing! of course next time we will haave to go back to 5ps again but i bet we will swap to a 10p sooner than last time. it is all little steps.

anyway, I have rambled for long enough.. tired and off to bed.

Blueberties Fri 12-Aug-11 23:36:04

Poor thing, she should have had them recited into her four or five years ago. Times tables are so boring. It's not surprising she finds it hard to concentrate.

My advice is, crash cram her for tests and exams for two weeks before each on with home made flash cards and constant snap random questions. Keep it up until she's old enough for her exams not to need mental maths.

Blueberties Fri 12-Aug-11 23:38:30

And make it funny, like six x eight - scottish accent pls etc etc

you knwo, vary it round, make it fun so it's not all hell

Blueberties Fri 12-Aug-11 23:39:21

and tell her it's until the exam or test, she's old enough to undertand the idea of working for a purpose

samels001 Sat 13-Aug-11 01:18:05

A recent numeracy course at my DS school (for parents) really emphasised the practical nature of maths. ie making it real not abstract. Plenty of ideas suggested above.

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 13-Aug-11 01:28:44

A good way is using money as you can break it down into ones, twos, fives, tens and hundreds and money, especially pocket money is very relevant to DCs your DDs age.

Another tip is to use a chinagraph pencil on glass (don't worry, it rubs right off). Glass door, dining room window, whatever. For some reason, numbers make more sense on a transparent surface.

stopkickingthatmackerel Mon 22-Aug-11 21:34:33

Bit of an update.

DD has been completing X table grids and is doing surprisingly well better than we anticipated. But will do the counter etc ideas to make it seem more real.

Perhaps all hope is not yet lost.

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