butterfly speed to bullet speedI began working with Mark last summer, after he had failed the state end-of-grade (EOG) test, along with several of his classmates. Then we continued our weekly sessions after school started. Mark’s math skills and test grades have improved but I’m concerned that he may perform poorly on the standardized test again this year. I know that isn’t the end of the world, but Mark is smart and capable, and I’d like to see his scores represent his ability.

The main reason I’m concerned about the EOG is that I don’t think Mark’s teacher is going to complete all of the areas that are required by the Common Core (CC) standards for his grade level. I say this based on the pace of progress thus far. I discussed my concerns with Mark’s parents, and they agreed that it would be a good idea to begin working ahead. So I started bringing problems from CC worksheets and sample tests for us to work through after we finish with Mark’s regular homework.

After the first couple of sessions, I could see that it was not going well. While Mark was very motivated to finish his homework, his enthusiasm took a nose dive whenever I pulled out those extra problems. I couldn’t really blame him. Most pre-teen boys are not interested in the flight speed of butterflies, the area of a kitchen floor, or sales at a clothing store. I had to try something else.

So before our third session with the CC problems, I rewrote an entire set of questions to make them relevant to Mark. He is an avid hunter (not something we have in common), so in the revised worksheets, butterfly flight speed became bullet speed, kitchen square footage became designated hunting area, and clothing discounts became gun sales. It took some thinking, but I was able to change every single problem into something that Mark could relate to.

During our next session, when it was time for the extra problems, I told Mark that I had some new worksheets. He shrugged and waited for me to get them out of my folder. I watched in anticipation as he read the first problem. Just a few seconds later he smiled. Bingo!

We worked through several problems, and along the way Mark shared stories about hunting. I was thrilled to see his enthusiasm and I felt a sense of connection between us that had not existed before. I know he enjoyed talking about his interests and I’d like to think that he appreciated my efforts. I definitely let him know that I appreciated his.

So the next time your kid comes down with a case of math boredom, try changing the problems. You don’t necessarily have to type up new problems—you could just verbalize them. Use any subject that your child thinks is interesting or silly or outlandish. If you get him engaged, his mind will be more open to learning and he’ll have more fun with math.

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