Advice about Math in School

Parent Q&A

Is this a Kid Who Needs Math Challenges and What Would That Be? Nov 4, 2018 (8 responses below)
Help with 6th grade math catch-up Feb 22, 2017 (2 responses below)
Adjusting to middle school math expectations Jan 4, 2017 (5 responses below)
Calculus AB or BC? Dec 7, 2016 (4 responses below)
Algebra class online Aug 19, 2016 (5 responses below)
Mathway - cheating or learning? Aug 15, 2016 (2 responses below)
  • Seeking advice from educators and/or parents. My fifth grader is in a bare-bones public school; while his teachers have been very nice and understanding of his quirks and strengths, due to the range of abilities in the classroom they of course aren't able to provide him differentiated instruction. He's always been a strong reader (tested at 12th grade last year in 4th grade), but we are coming to realize maybe math is more the thing he can go deeper/further in. He scored well on the 3rd grade SBAC, and on the 4th grade SBAC he scored 2623 in math which I think is very close to the max 4th grade score in CA. Full credit to the teachers for doing a great job preparing the kids! But I'm wondering how much my son brought to the table - is that a good score, or a really good score? Does it indicate anything beyond, he's a good test taker and the teachers did a good job teaching to the test? Can anyone with more depth on the SBAC/CAASPP provide some perspective on if we as parents should be putting more time and energy into math enrichment, and if so what that would look like for a 10 year old? I have looked at the Berkeley Math Circle website, and honestly it looks like a quantum leap from his 5th grade textbook - I have no idea if he could handle it. He does say he is bored with math at school, and he did greatly enjoy the ATDP math class he took this past summer - honestly he seemed intellectually challenged for the first time. Our school (and district) doesn't have a Math Olympiad, which from what little I know, I do think would be up his alley. He also enjoys his weekly afterschool chess class but is not particularly good at chess. :) An online class through CTY is an option; he's just finishing one in literature but the thing he liked most was the online discussion board and I don't think the math classes have that. Advice welcome. Thanks!


    Start with, Jo Boaler's website.  Her free online class is for reluctant math learners so you may want to go straight to resources.  The website has all sorts of fun, open-ended activities.

    In addition, try visiting MSRI, Math-Science Research Institute, above Lawrence Hall of Science on Gauss Way and take a look around their library for middle school math resources.

    How about an after-school class at Lawrence Hall of Science or Quantum Camp in downtown Berkeley?  And be sure to visit the Exploratorium and Autodesk Gallery(free.)

    Finally, look into resources from the Mini Maker Faire that just took place at Park Day School in October. Maker activities/robotics is often a good activity for math-oriented students.

    Happy to exchange additional ideas if you are interested.  There are some free/low cost resources in the area and online.  As well, there are specialists who can support enrichment.

    Belinda Lesser, mom and math education enthusiast

    Maybe Lawrence Hall of Science or Kahn Academy online. 

    Our daughter started UC Berkeley Math Circle in 5th grade because she wasn't getting enough challenge in school. It was so fulfilling for her. They definitely work on problems that are way above their grade level but she found that intriguing and it supplied the challenge she was craving. She also did her own math programs on Khan Academy which was fulfilling and gave her more grounded learning for her grade level and the grade level above hers. I also heard that Firecracker Math is a great alternative to UC Berkeley Math Circle.

  • Help with 6th grade math catch-up

    (2 replies)

    Hi community. Due to some transition issues, it looks like my sixth grader is not going to be fully caught up on the math standards for his grade. I would love either a short summer intensive, a self-paced online course, homeschool curriculum or a class/tutor that would be specifically geared towards getting him fully up to speed and run by someone familiar with the sixth grade curriculum, rather than a 'fun with math' kind of program. This isn't a learning issue, he's strong in math, but an exposure issue--he just needs to be introduced to the concepts. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated--Oakland area would be easiest but nearby would be doable. Thanks in advance.

    Do Kumon over the summer. They will test him to see what level/concepts he needs to start at, and then he will work his way through packets. It's redundant and your kid will dread it (they have to do 20 minutes daily). However, it is amazing at reinforcing concepts.

    Seems to me that Kumon (or Sylvan) would be your last choices because you mentioned that your child is strong in math and needs exposure to concepts.  Kumon (& Sylvan) support practice in basic math procedures and skills but do little to help a student understand the deeper knowledge concepts in the new Common Core Math Curriculum.  Check the CA Common Core Math Standards internet links as well as your school district's website for more details on this.  As well, whatever curriculum is being used at your child's school will also have a website with "parent resources."

    In addition, there are a number of excellent private learning specialists and extra-curricular math programs in the East Bay Area and they can help your child get caught up to grade level math concepts in an enjoyable and effective manner.   BPN has a list of community professionals and tutoring services and BPN Archives have many referrals and reviews.  

    What you are looking for is available in the East Bay.  Maybe try your "Nextdoor" online network for specific local referrals.  When my son was younger, he periodically went to Evan Delageane, who used Making Math Real© methods, and this was sooo helpful.  Unfortunately, Evan has moved out of the area.

    Check BPN Archives,

    take care,

    Local Parent of a teen

  • My child is a new 6th grader at King Middle School. While things seem to be going well and as expected with the transition to middle school, I'm finding myself a bit concerned with one of the teachers and need a sanity check from other parents. My student is struggling with math. He didn't have any problems in elementary school and we haven't received any communication or concern thus far. He came home with a very low grade, not even approaching where he needs to be. No comments were listed. In reaching out to the teacher, we first had a heck of a time receiving a response, then when we did get a response the answers were extremely stand-offish and curt. She had no explanation except for us to go through the Powerschool site through every assignment listed and graded and see where he was missing points. We did this and it turns out that he was missing some points with incomplete homework and low scores on tests. While I admit we have not been checking Powerschool, we have not seen any tests or homework returned that indicated low scores or missing work. The only place it was listed was Powerschool. It was never communicated that this is the primary means of monitoring progress. Needless to say, my son is less than enthusiastic about this class. He is not an overly emotional child by any means, but feels the teacher is cold and can't be bothered. I'm truly taken aback at how "self-service" things seem to be. In addition to having a very substantial homework load nightly, my kid is now having some anxiety about even approaching the teacher with clarifying questions.

    Can someone get my expectations in check? Is it too much for the teacher to provide more insight than to send a link to powerschool? While we aren't expecting her to be warm and fuzzy, we truly have the impression that she cannot be bothered. I am going to make a point of scheduling a face to face meeting with her, but was hoping for some support and insight. 

    I feel like it's appropriate for you and your child to lower your expectations for how much a teacher is supposed to manage. You may not like the teacher's personality, but as for your being responsible for checking Powerschool and communicating with your kid about those earlier test scores, that really is on you. Was there a back-to-school night? If this wasn't communicated then, then that's certainly a problem, but -- teachers are slammed, they have too many students, and it's unrealistic to expect them to go down a list of students and follow up with parents on moderately low performance. 

    I think you have to make a distinction between the reasonable expectation that there is less hand-holding in middle school, and your dislike of this teacher's personality and style. 

    Hi there. I have a 7th grader and he probably had the math teacher you are talking about. Even if your son has a different teacher, 6th grade is just a whole lot different from the Elementary experience: kids are much more responsible for their own learning and it is not a warm and fuzzy place. Even so, I would really suggest setting up a meeting and going in and talking to his teacher, and just be honest, not defensive, just honest. I found her to be very concerned and helpful under the stern and offputting exterior. 6th grade was an adjustment for our whole family, but we are all doing better this year. Best to you new Cobras!

    Depends on the teacher, school and district.  Hate to say it but your experience is more the norm now.  Don't  blame the teachers, not their fault, this is how our education system now operates.

  • Calculus AB or BC?

    (4 replies)

    My 7th grader is taking pre-calculus this year and I'm wondering if he should take Calculus AB or BC next year. So far we have prioritized him being with his friends over going at the right pace for him, but this year he got bored in class so his teacher just started him with the pre-calculus curriculum which he is doing well with and nailing all the tests. (He already had the necessary background from doing extra work on his own.) So, for next year I'm wondering if we should put him in AB or BC. He is quite good at math so I'm not worried about him getting the concepts, I mostly worry about the amount of homework and the stress associated with the course. Thoughts on which would be better for him? Does BC have lots more homework or more stress? If he takes AB will he then take BC? Does BC cover a lot of the same material as AB? I am 100% sure he will easily get the concepts in either class the first time around since he's been doing different types of college level math for several years now.

    We are renting a house in a different district this year which has a 7-12 school (which is why he is able to do the pre-calculus) but next year he will go back to his old school and friends. He will need to go to the high school for math regardless of which math class he takes and I'm wondering if it is better to go at the beginning or end of the day? He typically rides his bike to school with his friends and has friends over after school. So is it better to go in the morning and miss the socialization on the way to school but not miss out on kids doing stuff together after school or is it better to start the day off on the right foot and go to school with his friends? The middle school and high school are about a mile apart so he can easily get himself between them by walking or biking.

    RE: Calculus AB or BC? ()

    The responses to your Calculus AB/BC questions may vary by school and teacher.  My daughter took (AP) Calculus BC at Berkeley High last year and now proctors for a Berkeley High Calculus AB class.  She said the two classes cover somewhat different material, but BC covers more and moves at a faster pace.  If your son is well-prepared and quick to pick things up, as it sounds like he is, he probably should just do BC.  Feel free to email if you have more specific questions.

    RE: Calculus AB or BC? ()

    If your son is doing well in pre-calculus without too much effort then I think it would be most natural for him to take Calc BC.  Calc AB is really just a watered down version of Calc BC.

    Can I ask what school(s) he's been going to that allowed him to accelerate in math?  I was not aware that ANY Berkeley schools allow kids to take accelerated math classes.  (Maybe you're in Piedmont?  or a very accommodating private school?)   I have friends who were thinking of temporarily relocating from Cambridge MA to Berkeley, but scrapped their plans when they realized that the local Berkeley school would not honor the fact that their kids were accelerated in math in Cambridge.  (Basically they were told that if a child is in 7th grade, she/he must take 7th grade math at that school.  Ridiculous.)

    RE: Calculus AB or BC? ()

    BC will cover the material from AB in the first semester (or part of the year) and "C" in the second, so BC is more accelerated than AB. I typically recommend that my students (I have worked as a math tutor for about 13 yrs.) who have time to take both classes (as in, aren't seniors their first year of Calc) do so because the second class moves very quickly and AB provides a more solid foundation. That said, if you're confident that he will have no trouble with any of it, there's nothing wrong with doing BC only. I would not expect BC to have any more homework than AB--just "harder" problems, and stress level will depend on how he does with understanding the concepts, which for most people are quite a step out of the box from things they've learned in Pre-Calc. The first 1/2 of BC can be a bit boring for students who have taken AB already, but after the first month or 6 weeks of class they do start to delve into some new topics/techniques that aren't covered in the AB class.  

    :Good luck!  I know it's a challenge guiding a student who falls outside of the "box" of classes that are typically offered for his age group, but there are so many good options, I don't think there is necessarily a right or wrong choice here.  :)

  • Algebra class online

    (5 replies)

    I am looking for an accredited online algebra class that my 13 year old could take. He will be enrolled full-time at his regular public school at the same time. So online homeschooling programs don't work unless they allow you to take just one class. And Khan Academy is not accredited. Any suggestions for good online classes would be appreciated.

    RE: Algebra class online ()

    BYU offers UC approved online courses:

    RE: Algebra class online ()

    I know it sounds weird but BYU is the go-to for online HS classes for reasonable price. My niece took all of her HS math this way (and got into a very competitive college.) You just need to arrange a proctor for the final which is not hard, they can give you a list of proctors in SF or a teacher or counselor at your son's HS can easily become one.

    RE: Algebra class online ()

    My son goes to a private, alternative high school, and when he took Algebra 2, it was through an online program called, ALEKS.  It was the only class he took online (with a teacher to help him with questions).

  • Mathway - cheating or learning?

    (2 replies)

    My high schooler purchased a subscription to Mathway (for $9.99 / mo.)  I'm told (adamantly) that is a critical aid for doing homework.  I wonder. Is it a learning tool or more like Sparknotes (a shortcut/cheating)??    

    All depends on how it's used.  It solves math problems, and provided basic canned explanations.  Just depends if he reads the explanations and understands what he's read.  Those things never worked for me. 

    I also agree that it depends on how it is used, but it definitely can be used to cheat as the paid Mathway service allows all of the steps of the math problem to be revealed. This means that Mathway does more than just give you the answer. Without a paid subscription Mathway would only show the final answer. This means that if a teacher says "show your work" you can get that by paying for Mathway. Essentially, your kid would likely not have to do any actual work to complete homework assignments since they paid for Mathway.

    That said, I used Mathway in my own college course (I had to take a math course to get my degree - and math isn't my forte!) and I found the ability to view the steps extremely helpful in learning how to come to the correct answer.

    Ultimately you will be able to tell if your child is using Mathway in a way that enhances learning, rather than just for cheating, by their scores on their in-class math quizzes. If your kid does well on the in-class assignments where they can't use Mathway, that to me would suggest they are using the website constructively. If they are doing poorly on the in-class work, that could mean they are just using Mathway's "view steps" feature as more of a way to cheat on homework than as a tool for learning. 

    Hope this helps!

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Advice about Math in High School & College

How hard to push math with disinterested 12 year old?

Jan 2013

How hard do I push math and science on my daughter?

I have a 12 year old who gets straight As. At this point she excels equally in all areas. However her interests are leaning towards liberal arts areas. She is interested in politics, public speaking, and languages. For example, when looking at summer programs, she wants to take Latin and acting, rather than, say, marine biology.

I find myself torn. On the one hand, there are so many wonderful opportunities in the sciences, I would love to see her on track to pursue some area of science or technology over the long term.

On the other hand, I don't want to send the message that her own talents and interests are somehow ''wrong''.

How hard do I push? This is exactly the age when girls often give up on math and science. While she's not giving up, she seems to be kind of drifting away.

I am doubly torn as this is a microcosm of a conflict between my husband and myself. My engineer hubby is all about science. I, despite coming from a family of scientists (and doing advanced work in math and science in high school), majored in international relations and went into business. I make a good living at a job I enjoy and am good at. But when it comes down to it, my husband doesn't really respect my job (even though I make more than he does) because it's not science or technology. And I have to admit, sometimes my job is not as intellectually stimulating as I would like in a perfect world.

As you can see, this is a very loaded topic at our house. Do I force her to take science classes this summer to keep the peace, and keep her Dad happy? She wouldn't hate it, she would do fine and have a good time, and she is a really good kid. If I say that the decision is science camp, she will accept with pretty good graces. But it's not what she wants. Help! not a PhD, but no dummy either

I don't normally respond to messages, but I really felt compelled to respond to this one. Your daughter is 12! She's not even in high school yet. Why would you need to push about anything? She's already getting straight As. At 12 her summers should be spent having fun - not taking Latin (unless that's what she would consider fun). She has the rest of her life to ''produce''.

Give her (and yourself) a break. Think about all the change that you went through between 12 and 18 - she might love drama now and love physics by the time she goes off to college. Or she might stay loving drama and major in it and be poor for awhile but be creatively fulfilled. It's all OK...All you have to do is make sure you support her in the areas where she shows promise and interest and let her know that you love her for who she is.

It's her life - she has to live it for herself and not for you. Relax a bit with her - she sounds like a great kid - you're so very lucky. She'll be fine! Relaxed Mama

I don't really have much advice, but I just wanted to say I feel for you and have gone through the same thing. My daughter is now 17 and has always had diverse interests and strengths. I too saw the science side slipping away at one pt and worried about societal influences vs her ''real'' interests (whatever those are) but now as a senior, it's still there.

The route we have taken is to be quite hands-off as far as what we required her to do/take. So if you require a math/science activity this summer, maybe give her a list of options to choose from and also let her choose another activity. Perhaps just say to her, ''I like it that you are a well-rounded person and I want that to continue, so please choose one from column A and one from column B'' This may be trickier, but I think it's important to (try to) get her dad on the same page as you--valuing all her skills and interests and not pushing too hard for math and science--cause that could really backfire. best wishes

You're doing a great job thinking about this from all sorts of angles. I'm a math/stats prof and mother of a 10 year old girl, so I am very aware of the maze girls have to go through. Great you want to keep all options open.

It doesn't require math & science camps this summer. If she doesn't fall behind in school she will have the right foundation to use it once she likes to. Puzzles and deep thinking are always good. How about philosophy or logic if she's more into verbal things at the moment?

What it does require, is that she learns to discover her real interest and talents, believes in herself and avoids internalising prejudices. If she does go down a male dominated path, a stable emotional basis will help with hurdles and comments. Rachel Simmons book ''The curse of the good girl'' is very insightful.

Yes, there are great opportunities for math/science/eng career wise. Also, there are a lot of opportunities that require quantitative skills but are a bit broader: epidemiology, industrial design, cognitive psychology etc. Give her access to the information about this. Motivation can come from appealing examples: you can explain physics using the an oil pump or the heart system, the choice will impact which kids are interested in it. I could teach the entire K-12 math curriculum using examples exclusively from knitting! I'd not worry if she's not in love with math and science right now. There may be due to a lot of social factors and the dullness of school math (in many though not all places).

There may be an opportunity for your husband and daughter to bond doing math/sci/eng activities. (If there's a chance he can inspire her and let her explore, rather than lecturing and correcting her - girls can supersensitive but can learn to build on achievement and learn from failure). Or you do science activities with her - if you're not into that, trust the instructions and let you daughter put on the smarty pants. The advantage of doing things at home is that it's away from the peer girls and the boasting/pushy boys - sorry about the clich\xc3\x83\xc2\xa9s, it's a very rough summary of the situation middle school age.

A few random things: (girl friendly video on a new technology) Books by Marilyn Burns

I personally was always doing okay with math & science in school, but didn't particularly like it until about age 15 when I had a teacher letting us solve more abstract and complex problems in math, science became more theoretical. Julia

I told my daughter after the open house at her middle school that I had signed her up for Math Club and that she needed to go to the Club the very next day, but the truth was that I did not sign her up. She was not very happy, but she went anyway. She found a couple friends there and went to the Math Club every day ever since. She turned from a kid who received only certificates of participation the first year and - in her first competitive math contest to many trophies and medals in various math competitions two years later. Now, she is one of four kids in the senior math team at her high school even though she is only a freshman.

I never realized that our actions could have a profound impact on her life, but one of my tricks changed her attitude on math and science. You need to find an opportunity for her to participate, and every one needs a nurturing environment, if the school does not offer it. Berkeley Math Circle may be one, but it may be tough at the beginning. My feeling is that your daughter has been influenced by you more than your engineer husband so she has the same feeling toward the math. A father who tricked his daughter to math

I really enjoyed your thoughtful and caring letter. I am responding as a ''soft'' scientist, i.e. health professional who is in private practice.

Firstly, I have an admitted bias against the restraints of school and the inability of many kids, particularly those who are deeply gifted in one area or those who just have a wide range of interests, to delve into those interests in any supported way. My own son took most of the classes that mattered to him outside of school and those are what has helped him develop his career, as someone who blends the arts and sciences in computer graphics. I saw summer camps as a place where he could truly feel free to deeply pursue his own interests and meet like minded individuals.

Secondly, one never truly knows where pursuing your own interests will take you or how it will aid you in the future. The Latin I took in high school has aided me in deciphering medical terms, or at least knowing how to approach breaking down those terms. The plays in which I participated helped me learn to get along with groups of people in pressured situations with deadlines and to put on a pleasant demeanor i.e. act even when confronted with very difficult, demanding patients. I also learned I wasn't very good at acting so never had that as an unfulfilled desire.

Your daughter is only 12. She of course needs your guidance but if she has a strong desire for a particular summer camp, I would let her choose. The pressure for limiting one's options only gets worse as she moves into secondary education so giving her some room to breathe and an understanding from you that her opinions really matter is a good counterpoint to her own desires being constrained during the school year. Admitting my bias here: children need limits and guidance but they also need creativity and some understanding of who they are apart from other's agendas. chiliconmom

I can sense you really want what is best for your daughter but feel torn about her ability to be successful in the world. I would argue that there are many ways to define success, and It might be wise to reconsider this question. I know many successful people in the areas of math and science and I know many in the world of politics and public service and the arts. Your daughter is smart, and my guess is she knows herself pretty well, as she is resisting going into a direction that is counter to what she is drawn to.

I have worked in advising at Cal for many years, and I cannot tell you how many miserable students I have seen in my office over the years because their well-meaning and educated parents pushed them in direction they were not suited for. Many were treated for depression, fell behind in school and just plain did poorly. Some dropped out entirely.

Both of my children are more artistic than scientific, and much as I know they might make more money down the line and be more ''successful'' in a society that values status & making money should they choose a more ''practical'' way to go, I hope they find what they love to do. My sense is this is what you want for your daughter, too, but you are getting an unhappy message from your spouse. I have never made a lot of money myself, but I feel I have done a lot of good in my life by helping people. What is a life? Making a difference, and hopefully in a good way.

I hope you will rethink your own success, too. Your husband's lack of respect for what you do may make you fearful of how he will view your daughter if she does not choose the same path he did. And of course, he is not giving her positive messages, and that is of concern. Be strong, Mama. Let your daughter find her own way. Different not better

The answer is that you can TRY to force your good student liberal-arts leaning daughter into science or math camps or extra classes, but that would not likely increase her interest. And it may make her actually hate those topics. What you can do is open the door, inform her of fun options that you can afford (time and money wise) and then let her figure out which doors to step through. Who knows, perhaps in high school or college, of her own accord she will be drawn to math or science or engineering. But if you force her now then she may rebel.

Perhaps your husband's bias, and your perception of his bias is what needs work most. Honor your career choice and set a great example for your daughter. Where would we be without smart, well educated writers and artists? Sciencey artist


Girl loves math but not sure about major or career

Sept 2012

My daughter is a sophomore in college and went in as a math major. Math is truly her first language. But her school has a coop component, and it's intensifying her lack of clarity about a career path. She's never seen herself as an engineer, actuary, accountant, academic etc. Math majors at her school are a small cohort, and she was not feeling very encouraged about coop jobs in math. Math's exclusive focus on theory, and her concern about her future job prospects made her start to think about other majors. In May, she changed to electrical engineering (EE), more jobs, lots of coop placements, and it's the most mathematical engineering area. She took summer school to catch up on the intro classes. Now, she's overwhelmed by the workload, and is worried that an EE career will not actually allow her to focus on math. The EE lectures are interesting to her, involving more concepts and math, but the hours a week of labs, which she feels much less competent in, she hates. She thinks back to last year and how much she enjoyed her math classes, and wonders if she made the right choice. (Hard work is OK when you know what it's for.) She is working with her advisor on whether she is dropping a class to ease her load, or perhaps switching back to math, though it's late in the semester to be doing that, in terms of catching up. She's very unclear right now, and pretty demoralized. I've tried to tell her that whatever she decides for this Fall will be OK.

My main question to you good people is whether this is just a trial and error and reflection process she will have to work her way through or whether there are any useful outside advisors or resources that can help her understand how to optimize her college experience while also preparing for work, especially if those resources don't exist (or aren't good enough) at her school? And how much of this is her learning more about what possible jobs use math? How much is her knowing more about different academic fields of study? And how much is someone taking the time to learn about her, to help her make the right decisions?

Otherwise so far, I have mainly tried to encourage her to realize that it is normal for many people not to know what work they will do after college, hoping to make some space for her to be OK with not knowing for sure while she explores. And to reassure her that if she spends a semester in EE and then goes back to math after all, it's not necessarily a waste, as she might have wondered later whether it would have been a better major. thanks for any thoughts, mama bear

I don't have specific advice except to say that what you are describing is truly the benefit of the Coop opportunities your daughter's college offers and what I wish more schools did. Alternating between school and real work experiences supports students in navigating choices while they can still make course (literally and figuratively) corrections. So many college grads get out into their chosen fields only to realize it wasn't what they thought they were prepping for afterall. There's some interesting research about what employers get out of it too (grow their own employees) and students (low risk trial of different paths). Good luck! Coop/work-based learning fan

Has she taken any computer science classes? Computer science is even richer in mathematical concepts than EE, and there are entire careers marrying the two, e.g., developing algorithms to apply advanced math to real-world problems, from climate modeling, to investment, to real-time robotics. Have her look at the CS graduate degree requirements at schools like Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and MIT, and the work of some of the doctoral students, and I suspect she'll see lots of echoes of the math she loves. (And diversions into other fields are always good... there're mathematicians applying their knowledge of dance, drama, or classic literature, to make a difference in the world.) Another Math-Daughter Dad

Knowing absolutely nothing about your daughter but what you posted, I'd encourage to do what makes her happy, which seems to be math and not EE. There's no guarantee that one major will be economically better than the other, and you can make a living with either (demand for high school math teachers, to name one work option, will never be exhausted). So why not do what she wants now, and change later if she wants something different later?

My personal experience, for whatever anecdotal value it has: Math major in college. Not a Ph.D.-quality student, and didn't go to graduate school in math. Got a job in an engineering company with my math major - and quit after a year because I didn't like it (sounds like your daughter in her EE classes). A year later, went to grad school in a different area, albeit one that uses math (energy policy). It all worked out well, economically as well as personally, and looking back from 30+ years later I have no regrets. dmarcus

Another Mom referred me to a university site with good information about how to connect majors to careers: This Mom also recommended career planning. There was an earlier post recommending Toni LIttlestone, 510-528-2221, or tonilittlestone [at] You should be proud of having a daughter who loves Maths. Good luck to you and to her. judith

Re: Girl loves math but not sure about major or career Hello. I am a physician/scientist and your daughter's situation caught my attention. This is the time for your daughter to explore her passion by learning about opportunities for mathematicians in the real world. Although her math professors have chosen an academic career, she may be able to talk with her math professors about other paths other colleagues in graduate school chose. Grad students in her math department may also have insight into different paths in applied math that they would like to pursue.

If she is not sure about a career in electrical enginerring, she may want to explore applied mathematics; it is an important tool in many areas of science. My sister has a master's in math from UC Berkeley and was recruited for a summer internship to work at the Jet Propulsion Lab. She has been there ever since. She has used her skills in applied mathematical analysis to work on a variety of fascinating projects such as analysis of radiofrequency datato look for evidence of new planets (Planet X). Most recently, she is part of the navigation team that determines trajectories for unmanned space craft landings (such as the Mars Rover). Another colleague of mine has a daughter who is an undergraduate in applied math. She did an undergraduate summer internship in a prestigious university in the east coast working with biostaticians/epidemiologists in the school of public health who use mathematical models to study associations between levels of air pollution and heart attacks. A friend has a son at MIT who majored in economics which has a lot of mathematical modeling and is now in graduate school developing (math) models for climate change.

There are lots of opportunities for math in the real world. Good luck to your daughter! anon

I started out as a business major in college, but math was my true love. I switched to majoring in math my sophmore year. I had always planned to go to grad school and during my undergraduate years I fell in love with statistics. As a grad student in statistics I was never lacking in jobs or internships and in my career I've had fulfilling work that I never could have imagined in advance. Also of relevance: depending on the major requirements of your daughter's college, there may be enough electives that it doesn't hurt that she might miss out on a year of math; none of my first year business courses counted towards my math degree.

Regarding EE: I think she should put her discomfort in the labs into perspective by talking to classmates and teachers. The latter, especially, might give her their opinion of whether what she is experiencing is common or normal. A potential degree in EE is nothing to throw away lightly if she really enjoys the classes. Francesca

Mama Bear,

Suffice it to say that the focus on constant achievement in many parts of our culture at present can make it very challenging for people to take any path characterized by both short-term costs and long-term benefits. In my opinion, that's what your daughter is struggling with now.

It's okay to go to college and to do something you love, with no concern about what will happen after graduation. Indeed, many would join me in arguing that that's a far better use of time than any college career focused chiefly on the post-graduation job.

Math majors go on to do an incredibly wide variety of work in life. I say: take advantage of this opportunity to pursue a genuine passion, and just trust that everything will work out. Remember, too: not everyone has such a clear sense of what's an enjoyable way to spend one's time. I advise her to relish it.

And if there really is a concern about whether to major in math, a path that many find both low-stress and highly effective is: take the classes you want to take, and pick the major that best fits those classes, rather than trying to force the plan the other way around. Hope this helps. Best of luck! Wes

As an applied mathematician I think everything she is saying/feeling is correct. Math is fun (at least for some of us) but often very theoretical and challenging to get a good job. EE is mathematical but not always a good fit for a mathematician -- as she's seen in the labs. I'd suggest she look around for interesting areas that use math (and are similar to a math major) but have interesting applications and job opportunities. For example, operations research, genetics, statistics, and biostatistics all have a similar ''feel'' to math. Also, parts of economics, computer science and genomics are very mathematical. Many schools even have degrees that mix math with another field. (Even if she switches back to math she'll likely find a job that mixes math with something else when she graduates.)

I'd suggest she look around and find the right fit -- I think it'll be be worth the effort. ef

For the parent of the college sophomore who loves math ...what else is your daughter interested in? Some careers that involve applied math and/or statistics (and I think she should definitely take some statistics classes, which she'll probably find fun, and which have many real world applications) include: high level modeling for the investment community (a friend's brother who has a PhD in math from Cal makes a handsome living doing this); creating and refining algorithms for applications such as Amazon or EBay or Netflix, e.g. ''if you liked x, you might also like y''; online dating websites like employ high level math/programming people to create and refine their algorithms to help people find others with whom they might hit it off. Quantitative market researchers use statistics to analyze human behavior and opinions and these findings are used for many different purposes: new product development, advertising, pricing decisions, market segmentation-- that's a good career if she finds studying human behavior interesting. I myself don't know enough about math to know which courses have the most practical applications, but I would certainly think your daughter should be able to research this on her own via the Internet, at least to some degree. many people are happy to be interviewed about their jobs. Joyce

Here is a free, fun, quick online Meyers-Briggs temperament test that gives you the results and some career suggestions right away (you don't have to give them an email address): All the best.

To start out, I just want to say that it is GREAT to have girls into math!!

As to the specific issues, I support most of what people wrote last week, but let's parse through what you said. First of all I am assuming that your daughter is doing EE not EECS not to mention CS. (Now this of course varies depending on the school.) On this front, she should really, really try CS. It sounds as if she feels as if she is floundering in the labs, well that happens to alot of students, but if she is not happy what's the point. It's not as if she has fallen in love with German Expressionist literature. There really are jobs for mathematicians, which brings me to...

Second, jobs in a coop program may have zero correlation with the labor market as such. Why do I say this? Well there is unbelievable demand for mathematicians today--data analysis, so called big data is one of the driving trends in business and computing today. So much so some CS programs are putting in a stat component in their required course work. (the job title is ''data scientist'' and has been dubbed the sexiest job in tech, by the preeminent EE magazine-IEEE Spectrum.) I obviously don't know her but it seems as if the combination algorithmic and computation thinking, as the best data scientists do should keep her happily engaged. It is curious that she and mostly her counselor missed that.

Now this is all applied math. I am assuming that she does not have an aversion to applied math, given that you say that she likes the mathematical parts of engineering. If she were my daughter, and my daughter is similarly inclined, my advice would (was to mine)take enough CS to be competent, a minor might be enough, and go the full monty in stats, or at least as much as she can tolerate. (On the CS side, there is a reasonable probability that she will really start to like coding. )

Go back to math, get out of the EE lab if she hates it; take some CS courses.

Also mom, don't worry and tell her not to worry, even in the decimation of public finances today, there are jobs for math teachers. IT dad with Mathy daughter


Just how important is math?

May 2011

We're having a big, deep issue in our household around the study of math and the acquisition of math skills. Our daughter is a high school junior and, due to a series of events beyond her control (moving after fourth grade to small, three room school house, accelerating through one grade mid-year - half of eighth grade then half of ninth - then returning to Bay Area and starting ninth grade over with peers due to move) her math education has been choppy and disrupted to say the least. Also, as it turns out, her way of perceiving math is very conceptual, and she has not been taught in a way that speaks to her learning style. Now she is ''behind'' and her self-esteem is really suffering. She is now in the hands of a great tutor and is working hard to make up for lost time as she prepares for her SATs. I similarly had a tough time in math all the way through, and joke about with her. Her math tutor even expanded on the joke by saying his daughter has a ''math allergy.'' We have said these things to her to make her feel more at ease, less alone and ''stupid.'' On the teen digest recently, I posted a question about how to help her with her deep negativity toward math. Posters resoonded with many thoughtful comments, including that this is my fault for making jokes about it and that I contributed toward her antipathy. When I asked my daughter about this, she basically said, thank god you are not a math genius mom - that would make me feel even more alone. So here's the question: at the end of the day, how much does math matter? I sail through life pretty successfully and I don't even balance my checkbook. Granted, my daughter has a job to do: she needs to do her best on the SAT and she needs to get into a great college and perhaps the world is a different place than when I went to UCLA a hundred or so years ago, and math mastery may be more integral to success. For what it's worth, she excels in the humanities. She is asking this tough question, how important is math, and I am trying to come up with a thoughtful response. Literate, not so numerate

On the most basic level mathematics is a way of understanding the world -- it is the underpinning of technology, medicine, and the statistics you see everyday in the newspaper/online. If you don't understand some basic mathematics it is challenging to be an informed decision maker either about personal life (i.e. medical crises, how much a car loan will actually cost you, whether it makes more sense to buy or rent), or political life. In terms of occupations, in addition to writing off careers in science and medicine, avoiding mathematics makes it extremely difficult to work in the social sciences, psychology, or urban studies. Statistics is used in history and textual analysis as well.

In addition to its use in various applications, mathematics trains the mind in thinking analytically. I would encourage your daughter (and you) not to let go of this strategy for understanding how the world works so quickly. At the very least she should take some kind of Statistics class (without calculus, if necessary), and may be required to do so in college. Mom of a girl math geek

Math is important. In my job (lawyer) it is much more important than you might think. It's not all Perry Mason in the courtroom but reading and analyzing business documents -- which, guess what, involves money, which in turn, involves math. This is even more true for corporate lawyers than litigators. Statistics and other economic principles are also a large part of what I do. The best lawyers I know are very good at math. Finally, as a woman, being good at math gives you instant credibility in a room full of men. It also adds a great deal of confidence.

Anyone who is reasonably intelligent can be good at math. It might not come easily, but these are skills that can be learned like any other. And the fact that you AREN'T good at it is all the more reason not to give up on it. The last thing you want to teach your daughter is that she should only do things that come easily to her.

In fact, I think that's the strongest argument of all for math in your case. Even if she never needs math per se, learning how to master something that is difficult for her is a skill that is absolutely critical to her success in life.

PLEASE help your daughter. If she is good in humanities, she can be good in math. It sounds like she is asking for permission to close this door of opportunity for herself. Please keep it open for her.

-- My personal experience. I was good at math, but had a very negative attitude towards it. Being female, ALL my female friends reinforced this. Every one of them talked about how bad they were at it and how much they hated it. So I thought the same. It's common and stereotypical to believe that women are ''bad'' at math, but it isn't always true. The entire time I thought I was bad at math I was actually really good (I got a higher score on math on my SATs/GREs than English, even though I thought that would be reversed).

You say she has a good conceptual understanding of math. I think math is important in a few areas: 1) Finances. You don't have to be all that great at math to do well with your finances. Dave Ramsey's book ''the Total Money Makeover'' will teach you all you ever needed to know about how to manage money without being good or even decent at math. 2) Career. If your daughter has any desire to enter a field of technology or science-related, math is going to be essential. She's going to have to have a basic understanding of it in some sense. For me, I was a communication major in college, then ended up doing technical writing, which turns out you need to have a good basic understanding of math in order to figure out what you are writing about.

Now, having said that, how you learn and prove you know math in high school in college is much different from the real world. In business and jobs, there are a lot of different kind of learners and if she understands math with a different kind of learning style than the one in school, she will have opportunities to explore that, as needed, for her job. For me, engineers go through very basic diagrams and analogies to teach me concepts I've either long forgotten, never learned, or never understood. And they patiently try and try, while I ask questions, until I understand just enough to get by. So, if she is good at humanities, decent at math, can ask a lot of questions, and is aware of her learning style, she probably will have no trouble succeeding in life. But, she's maybe going to have to learn how to adapt to others and explain how she needs to be taught (including possibly in college) in order to get there. Not a mathlete, but getting by just fine

Hugs to you and your daughter. I very much sympathize and my opinion is to try not to sweat it. Nothing against math lovers, but we all have different strengths and, in the grand scheme of things, your life can be just fine even if your math skills are limited. I graduated magna cum laude, hold an MA from an Ivy League school, and am now a PhD candidate in the humanities. And I have dyscalculia. I have absolutely no concept of numbers. Even fairly simple calculations are difficult for me, as numbers hold no meaningful referent in my mind. It's hard to explain, but it's like numbers just produce a blank spot in my brain and the moment anything numerical comes up, regardless of context, my brain stops processing. I did horribly in math in school, horribly on the math portions of the SAT and GRE, but still managed to get accepted into one of the most prestigious graduate programs in the country. Focus on writing skills! Writing is what will take you far in both academia and life, and will compensate for any holes in your math ability. Seriously. Mathmatically challenged

I am a highly-educated student of the humanities and social sciences who feels enormously sad that I skipped out on math whenever I could. I had a choppy math career as a youngster due to a couple of long hospitalizations. Because I missed some of the rote memorization of math facts, I felt my friends were smart at math and I was not. Later, my parents let me drop out of high school math, given that I was a stellar reader and writer. I avoided all of it that I could in college, and later entered an Ivy League university PhD program in English Literature. Turns out I didn't love the world of literature. I got more interested in the world around me and entered a graduate program that required some statistics and economics. At that point I had to confront my lack of math background AND my well-honed math aversion. Yikes. I wish now that I had learned to struggle with my math confusion and work harder to figure things out. Also, I know enough about math now to realize that it is the source of amazing beauty and wonder, and I wish I could more fully appreciate it. Don't give up math!

I almost didn't reply until I got to the end, ''she needs to get into a really great college''...Having 3 in college or recently graduated and two in elementary school I can be brutally honest. Her SAT scores in all 3 areas are important. Her grades are important. Her Achievement tests are important, her AP grades are important but given ALL that there are MANY, MANY good schools and if she doesn't get into her first choice schools, will she be a failure??? HECK NO!I'd take the emphasis off great schools and look for GREAT SCHOOLS FOR YOU-UCLA had 55,000 applicants for 4000 spaces two years ago. My daughter just wrapped up her 2nd year @ Cornell-when she applied there was the biggest class EVER of applicants applying to college since they started tracking it in the 50's. She didn't get into all her schools and she worked her fanny off in high school, had an international baccalaureate, high SAT's and ACT's and her GPA was way over 4.0 due to the Honors/AP classes she took. It sounds like your daughter is going to major in anything BUT math? Start looking for colleges with STRONG liberal ARTS programs. IVY schools don't remotely insure a job in this economy so I wouldn't focus much on prestigious schools. My husband for financial reasons alone went to a 3rd tier medical school. He's the highest functioning doctor and go to guy in his practice and most his cohorts have an IVY degree on the wall. After college finishes it's all about your work ethic, that's the key, not the place that printed the paper. The biggest thing you can do is take the emphasis off of her shortcomings and focus on her strengths and find the best college FIT for her. good luk

Hello - This is not a response to the question you asked about the importance of math. I heard a very interesting interview yesterday on All Things Considered about the Khan Academy and how they use You Tube to teach math. It sounds like you have some resources already but you may want to have your daughter check it out. Sarah in Oakland

You'll probably get lots of thoughts on this from both sides. I feel pretty strongly that more women should do the quant side of work (because of the economic gains and the fun), but I also know it's not for everyone.

I read your post then picked up the paper and saw this article about benefits of particular engineering / business majors. These workers can earn up to 50% more than those with humanities degrees:

So this reminded me of a book ''What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20'' by Seelig. I have not read it but I have heard Seelig speak and I was impressed - and it might be a good level / perspective for a teenager.

I'll also offer this extended observation. Part 1 - I've worked pretty heavily in the engineering / analysis / business fields for almost 15 years. I've seen a fair share of ok smart, only-somewhat-engaged engineers, accountants, analysts who I suspect make a lot more than awesome smart, fun, on-top-of-it administrative assistants. Breaks my heart, really.

Part 2 - It's important to look at the full trajectory. There are those who work as an engineer / analyst / etc for a couple years, then move into business or management. I think it opens a lot of doors, and it is not about a whole lifetime of doing ''x''. It always changes, particularly in today's world. (sales, product management, software management, etc.)

Another piece I heard on radio talked a study result: those who graduate during a recession with certain humanities degrees *never* catch up to peers who graduate during a boom time. Their lives are on a completely different trajectory. (For scientists or engineers, it might take 10 years or something like that to catch up, wage-wise)

People can be successful with or without the math, right? tons of success stories. I think life is more risky for those who don't engage on the math/analytical side though. I heard or read a piece once that talked about how the US is the only country that makes fun of those who are good at math and almost encourages people to 'give up' on the math. I think the jokes on those who believe it. Good for you to get the tutor. Hope it works out well! a believer in the opportunities of math

Hi, I am someone that was never that great at math and was not pushed by my parents to improve my math skills in high school. My language skills were off the charts, so I think my parents decided the poor performance in math was no big deal. However, I think it has limited me and I wish I could go back and do it differently.

It's not the particular math subject itself that's important (algebra, trig, calculus or whatever else), it's the way that studying math teaches you to think. When you study math seriously and with dedication you begin to develop the skill of thinking analytically. Learning how to examine an issue from this perspective is an enormous asset in any field. My husband is a bioengineering PhD who has never taken a business class in his life, but he is currently being recruited by a major consulting firm because they are looking for people that can think analytically and problem solve. They recruit from the maths and sciences for this reason.

Math is really important, don't let your daughter miss out on this opportunity. I also agree that making jokes about it is only going to make things worse. Joking about it sends the message that it's not important. Just my opinion.

How important is math?

How important is literature? Music? Art? Most of us make it through an average day without producing any of these, and without truly needing to consume them, either. Presumably you wouldn't accept a tutor who used the phrase ''literature allergy'' or a parent who brags about sailing through life without reading. But you accept ignorance of the fields that make the modern world go round (and unlock how and why the actual world, you know, goes around)?

You simply cannot get more than a cursory appreciation for any sciences without a thorough grounding in mathematics. There are few serious challenges facing mankind whose cause or solution isn't intimately tied to scientific issues. These days, not being able to understand these things deeply pretty much robs you of being a fully informed and responsible citizen. People who do you grievous harm every day are counting (no pun intended) on your remaining scientifically and mathematically ignorant.

Mathematics (real mathematics, not mechanical 1+1 arithmetic -- having a similar distinction as literature versus basic literacy) is beautiful, enriching, one of the most uniquely human endeavours and one of the few that completely transcends historical and cultural boundaries.

If you're not numerate, you're not fully literate, either. Literate and numerate

I WAS your daughter. I went through my entire academic career TERRIFIED of math and fully convinced I wasn't capable of doing anything beyond the basics.

One thing that I always noticed though, and you alluded to in your post...math is power. The most lucrative, most solid careers are overwhelmingly math-based. Now, money isn't everything, and there are certainly a few careers where one can be successful (whether personally or conventionally) that don't involve math. But there aren't many. I realized at some point that I was so ''bad'' at anything quantitative because I was afraid of it. I consciously let explanations of math concepts float over my head, refusing to open my brain to the possibility that I could actually be competent in the subject.

Then, I realized that if I wanted the career I'd planned (management consulting), then I'd have to master the thing I was most afraid of. Now I'm considering getting another master's degree - this time in finance.

Your daughter needs to take a good hard look at what she wants to do as far as a career (yes, she's young, but it's not too early to start thinking of these things). For the vast majority of people just saying ''the humanities'' isn't going to cut it (although there is tremendous evidence that a liberal arts education is second to none in helping critical thinking skills). Maybe what she needs is to see the potential application of math before making a decision that it's not for her. If her dream has zero math involved, then that's good too - she'll know she doesn't have to worry about it! Embraced My Inner Math Geek

I would like to address a comment someone made in response to your question, just how important is math? IVY schools don't remotely insure a job in this economy so I wouldn't focus much on prestigious schools.

If one's goal in going to college is to be prepared for a specific job, one can go to vocational school! The purpose of an Ivy League education is to receive first rate, well rounded exposure to understanding the world we live in, and to develop an analytical and intellectually expansive mind. One learns to communicate and articulate one's thoughts, and certainly there is no guarantee of a job, but one's chances are vastly improved with a high quality education. A prestigious school does not just boast exceptional professors, but the quality of a greater percentage of students is exceptional as well. Ivy League students are highly vetted and the experience of meeting one's fellow students, making contacts that can last a lifetime, and learning from one's peers is that much more rewarding. Lastly, I will say, many top companies and institutions do hire from the Ivy League (they have college recruiting programs specifically for this), and often not in the exact field the student has majored in because they know that a well conditioned, well-trained mind is flexible, adaptable, analytical, can learn quickly and is an asset to the organization.

In conclusion I would say, math is very important---and tutoring for the SAT's might be very helpful. And where you go to school is important too. Just look at the percentage of graduates from Ivy League schools who have gone on to make significant contributions to the world. And this is not to say one can not get a good education or become a successful member of society going to a less prestigious school, but it would be very foolish indeed to discount the value of an Ivy League education! Fan of the Exercise of Undertanding

I'd say math is very important. It teaches one how to think. Obviously, knowing multiplication tables these days is superfluous, what with calculators and the web. But it's the logical thought process that you really can't get anywhere in as pure a form as you can from math. My opinion. Suzanne (not a mathematician!)


Bright daughter is deeply negative about math

April 2011

We have an issue that we could really use some help with; it concerns our daughter, who is currently a high school junior. She is a smart cookie, loves the humanities, excels in social sciences, is working on her third language. She has always always had a hard time in math, and due to some moves on our part, and changes in schools at crucial junctures, she's had some big disruptions in her study of math; these disruptions have created setbacks which have compounded her level of frustration and her profound sense of inadaquacy. She's never had a math class she especially liked, and in her freshman year in a local public school, she actually had a geometry teacher who barely spoke English, and that year did our daughter a great disservice, from which she has barely recovered. She is now working with an SAT tutor, but she is far behind her peers and so discouraged. We had hoped to do some cognitive testing, but it was too expensive and we weren't able to do the whole public school testing route to find out if she had some real learning differences in the subject. We joke that she has a math allergy (runs in the family on my side). But here with are, with the SAT's looming, and college applications on the immediate horizon, and the stakes are high, and she is so negative about her performance and so discouraged in this subject area, I just have no idea what to do for her. How important is this? What can I do to boost her self-esteem? I've been in touch of course with her teacher but he's not a lot of help and she feels he doesn't like her - I think he's just not sure how to reach her and doesn't put out a lot of effort to do so. She does really well on the Language Arts parts of the standardized tests she taken but dismally on the math. Now we're thinking about looking at colleges that don't give a lot of weight to SAT scores. But how limiting is that?? So we're in a bad, sad, upset place and the stakes are looking pretty high here. What to do, how can I help? Where to go from here? need to make some lemonade out of lemons here

Helping your daughter become more knowledgeable and confident in math should be the first step, the SAT the second step. I remember reading some posts that described excellent math tutors who helped students gain an understanding and ease with math that they lacked. And built great confidence in the students. See if you can find these recommendations from the past. If your student could work with an inspiring math tutor for the rest of the school year and over the summer too, going over concepts she didn't master in the past and beefing up her math abilities, that would allow her to take the SAT in the fall with a solid base behind her. Now is the time to do this. Anonymous

Sally Ride recently spoke at Berkeley and touched on this problem. She was at a science day for girls, and the mother proudly introduced her daughter as a math whiz while simultaneously distancing herself and her family from her daughter's achievements and, frankly, dismissing her skill: ''I don't know where she gets this math stuff - nobody in my family likes it'' and so forth.

And that, Ms. Ride stated, is a major reason why girls drop out of math in middle school when they did just fine in grade school.

Now, if your daughter was a concert pianist would you say ''I don't know where she gets that music talent - nobody in my family likes it''? Or would you curb such an absurd impulse because you know it would make you and her look like idiots?

Well, you've created a perfect case of math antipathy - dissing the skill while demanding she conquer it. And like any sensible kid, she's taken your excuses and used them to avoid facing the hard work required to master this field. Simply put, you created the problem because you illustrated perfectly that there was no need for math skills in your family. You made your bed of nails and now you don't like it.

OK - you screwed up. And now those nails are biting, because the SAT requires a decent math score to get into any reasonable university and she's got 5-6 years of math avoidance. Now you have to break the habit fast - and you're still acting badly: ''We joke that she has a math allergy (runs in the family on my side).''

Jokes don't encourage people to try harder. Stop it.

Math builds upon itself, so missing core elements creates great difficulty. The only course of action is simple: dedication to review over a period of a few years with a tutor. Only time and dedication will reveal what math essentials she's not getting, and only time and dedication will allow her to gain confidence in math.

Confidence is not ''given'' by mom. And she can't evade math proficiency in a global economy no matter *what* her future major. At Stanford Law School I reviewed work on statistical models using Bayesian filtering of discrimination incidents. In history the cutting-edge work deals with data crunching to reveal trends. Literature, political science, economics, urban planning - all quantitative.

Math skills matter. Keep with the tutor and give it the time it deserves - even if she delays going to college for a year or so. Better she goes to college confident of her abilities instead of habituated to excuses for hard work. Good Luck

To whomever wrote the ''tough love'' comment TO THE MOM and said: ''You made your bed of nails and now you don't like it. OK - you screwed up. And now those nails are biting''

That comment was spot on. No one, I mean no one would make jokes about being illiterate, but seemingly it is okay to be innumerate. Well, no it is not okay in today's world(and this is a life/job issue not an SAT issue.)

Basically, your daughter has to work hard to correct the problem. You would not be as relaxed about this if she could not read! Nor would you have let this fester for years. Now, this is not to say that you don't care. Obviously you care enough to post a question.

This is not to say that she should be subjected to drill and kill nor that it will be easy, but she and you need to work at fixing the problem, and yes it is a problem.

One thing I highly, highly recommend is using the's website. It's free; it's unbelievably good. Sign up on the practice tab and your daughter can start on it as far back as she needs to go, i.e. she can start at basic arithmetic and go through calculus. You can monitor her progress and achievement is reinforced. It is simply the best free tutoring on the web.

And by the way I used to be an English teacher, but I know how important math is! nr

I would suggest you try a private tutor who is experienced in working with girls such as your daughter. I would suggest that you choose a woman. I have found that I (and others) have been able to turn girl's attitudes around. Incidentally, it's not OK to even joke about her or your being unable to do math. That just reeinforces the opinion that others (probably including teachers) have given her. it is not true, In my experience, if the subject is approached the right way. Judith

Don't stress out too much about math, especially since your daughter shines academically in other areas. My son also hates math, always struggled with it, and did very badly on math standardized tests (he doesn't test that well on the other parts of the SAT, but better than math). He dropped math after Algebra II/Trig and did not take Pre-Calc. In spite of all this, he got into several excellent small colleges and received two academic merit scholarships. All of these schools saw his SAT scores, but it didn't seem to harm him too much. He is passionate about history and politics, and I think the colleges liked that. He did not apply to UC or Cal State because he wanted to go to a smaller school.

I would be happier if he did better at math, but it just isn't meant to be, and it would make all of us miserable if we expected him to excel at it. What's important is that he (like your daughter) has academic passions that he can pursue in college. Carrie


High school junior wants to drop pre-calculus class

Dec 2010

Our student would like to drop a pre-cal course because of bad grades and what it might do to their GPA. That means graduating with 3 math courses in HS. We're already omitting UC schools from consideration, but what does it do for their chances of being admitted to a CSU? Assume a GPA of under 3 and an SAT under 1000. frustrated parent

My son hated math, and it was always his worst grade. He completed Algebra II/Trig junior year, and did not want to continue with pre-calc senior year. We were concerned that this would hurt his college chances, but we let him do it. It was a very good choice. He's so happy not to be dragged down with the one subject that was always so difficult for him. It has freed up his time and his mood, and the rest of his grades went way up. He loves science and history, and this gave him more opportunity to shine in those subjects without the drain of struggling with math.

As for college prospects, he didn't apply to UC or CSU, but he's already been accepted to two excellent small liberal arts colleges and got a nice scholarship at one of them. He still has several more to hear from. (A friend of his has a less-than-3.0 GPA and got into Humboldt, so it is possible.) I am very happy that we released him from his math misery. It's Hard To Be Good at Everything


Alternative to Pre-Calculus in HS senior year?

Feb 2010

My high school junior son has been a struggling B-/C+ student in math throughout middle and high school, and is campaigning not to take pre-calc in his senior year. I understand this desire, but I don't want to harm his chances for getting into a good college if he skips a final year of math. One possibility that has been raised is taking statistics, which seems more appealing. He's passionate about history, so he can see how statistics would be applicable to his intended field of study, unlike pre-calc. His small high school does not offer statistics, however. I have only been able to find AP Statistics online, and am worried that it might be too difficult. Does anyone have any advice or experience with online courses, statistics in particular?

If your son is not excelling in mathematics and is interested in liberal arts (history, English, journalism), there is no reason at this time for him to take precalc senior year and get a lousy grade, nor take statistics online and get a lousy grade. Statistics is hard too. He should focus on his strengths at this point, and not his weakness.

The key determiners to getting into the college of his choice are good SAT (and SAT2 in some cases), GPA / coursework, and activities. If he did well (600+) on the math portion of the SAT and very well (650+) on the reading / essay portion, has taken and done well in courses like AP English with a good overall GPA, and he's done some extracurricular activities (debate?, speech?, community service? leadership?), he should talk to an adviser he trusts to guide him to apply to colleges which will suit his interests and will see him as an asset. He'll do fine, so stop worrying.

If he should decide later that his major requires statistics and he also needs precalc, most colleges nowadays offer precalc as well (even Berkeley does), or he can take it at a community college. My son had to satisfy the UC language req and decided to do it at DeAnza College over summer instead of UCLA because it was more economic and allowed him to focus on his major at UCLA. There are many options at this stage, but the best advice I ever heard from a councilor was ''Trust your kid - they're moving into adulthood and need to make their own decisions''. Good luck. Lynne

I have heard so many students cry when they realized their non-calculus statistics course was not enough to carry them through college that I couldn't help but respond to your inquiry. Yes, you can find some online statistics courses through DVC and some other community colleges. They don't require calculus. Will they prepare your son for the AP exam? Maybe. ETS doesn't require calculus for the exam.

However, here's something to consider. I have run into many students who were social science and statistics majors but who had only taken a course in non-calculus-based statistics. They thought that they could get away with it because statistics and calculus are two different subjects. However, you need calculus to do statistics.

Your son might be putting the cart before the horse here. IMHO, he should be taking pre-calculus or at least know that he will have to take it very soon. Otherwise, his effort may be wasted. There are No Shortcuts

My daughter took Alg 2 junior year and Calc senior year. She didn't take pre-calc at all. She did well. Angela


Calculus and college admission

Jan 2009

My daughter is a sophomore in high school and was accelerated in middle school such that she is now taking precalculus this year. She is very bright but will be going a liberal arts direction in college (she is an excellent writer and has considered creative writing). Math is not a strong point for her and while she is quite competent, she struggles a bit to keep up. I have heard varying reports from high school counselors that to get into the top UC schools, students must take calculus. I would like to know if this is true even if the student isn't likely to go into math/science as a major? She's having such a hard time this year and I hate to put so much pressure on her to perform decently so it doesn't hurt her GPA. Should she take calculus next year? Are there any other options? Jennifer

Both of my daughters got into U C Davis,Irvine, Santa Barbara and some less competitive UCs without Calculus, 5 years apart from each other. They did not get into UCLA, UC San. Diego or UC Berkeley.The stress of taking calculus just was not worth it and they have no regrets. Elle

I've worked with several kids in your daughter's situation; some who pushed through Calc A-B and some who chose not to. All of them got into several good schools and were able to be selective. As a college counselor, my advice to kids and parents is that there is no ''formula'' that colleges are looking for when it comes to top students who have excellent grades, extra-curriculars, etc. I've heard this time and again from admissions folks, especially those at the smaller liberal arts schools. Completing the highest level of math available is no guarantee of admission or necessarily even desirable. Colleges will be looking to see if your daughter took the most rigorous curriculum available to her (particularly in her senior year), but ''rigorous'' can be interpreted in many ways. Maybe she will take AP classes. Maybe she'll take community college classes (I once had a student who got into Harvard with no AP classes whatsoever, but a broad range of community colleges classes under her belt). In short, your daughter should take classes that reflect her interests and future goals. If she's shooting for a liberal arts college with no intention of studying math/science, I'd consider freeing up the time and energy she'd place on Calc to explore other subjects at either the AP or college level. My belief is that this approach will serve her well not only in terms of being accepted to the colleges of her choice, but will give her the tools she'll need to be successful in higher education and her future career. Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like to talk further. Best of luck to your daughter! Lora

I can't say what the UCs want, but as a parent of a senior I would say that she should take classes that she is interested in. She will be more engaged, interested, and will care what grade she gets more than if she's taking a class she doesn't really like and is just doing it for the grade!

I wanted my daughter to take AP stats in 12th grade but she decided not to at the last minute. She's taking all classes that she wants and is doing really well. Point in case.

When your daughter's a senior, I can highly recommend her taking the ''writing short stories'' class. If she likes creative writing this is IT! Actually, this is probably the ONLY class my daughter took in 4 years where she did any creative writing. anon

Both of my kids took AP Statistics instead of calculus. One went to UCSC and the other to UCD. I think that for non-math/science types, statistics is actually a very useful subject. Wish I had been offered it when I went to high school. (Both struggled with math analysis but did fine with statistics.) Sally


4-year college without high school math?

Oct 2007

Hello all. I am wondering if my HS junior can possibly get into a 4 year college (probably a state college due to finances) without taking all the maths required (geometry and algebra 2). She has a difficult time with math, even with tutoring. She has A's and B's in all her other classes. Does she have to go thru the community college route, I assume take the 2 maths there, and then transfer? Also, is DVC the best 2 year college around, as I've been hearing or are the other junior colleges just as good (and closer to home). Thanks. mom of junior high schooler

A parent wanted to know if her child could be admitted to a 4-year California state college directly following high school without having taken geometry and algebra II. The answer is no. Three years of math are required for both the CSU and UC systems, specifically algebra I, algebra II, and geometry. For a list of this and other admission requirements for the CSU system, go to the website. Click on ''Plan'' on the lower left, then click on ''Admission Requirements.'' Then click on ''High School Students.'' Under ''Freshman Admissions Requirements,'' click on ''Specific high school courses,'' which details the courses required. Anonymous

Hi -- Berkeley High also offers an IMP (Interactive Mathematics Program) curriculum. IMP 2 counts as year 2 in the UC/CSU required college sequence. IMP 3 counts as year 3 in the UC/CSU required college sequence. IMP4 counts as year 4 in the UC/CSU required college sequence. After IMP4, the student would take Statistics or Calculus A/B. Flora Russ -- Berkeley High School


Geometry over the summer, Algebra 2 in the 9th grade?

March 2008

My son will be a freshman this fall. He current takes Algebra 1 now. I would like him who complete Geometry this summer and take Algebra 2 in the 9th grade. I need some advices. Middleschool Parent

It depends on how much your son likes math. IF he LOVES math and IF you have him do geometry either in a high school or at ATDP, it's a good idea. It also might be a good idea if he is pretty sure he wants to go into engineering or a hard science. Otherwise, you may be putting him in a position of taking more math than he really wants to take as selective colleges will expect him to take math each year of high school. Judith, former math dep't head BHS

I think that if your child is motivated to do this ( or any educational activity) run with it unless it is totally inappropriate. Actually both my kids ended up taking geometry in 8th grade and so did honors Algebra 2/trig in 9th and did fine. Good luck! jenny

To add to my last message. If your son is not motivated and it is coming from YOU ONLY I would not do it. As they get to be teens I think they need to know that their parents trust their judgement on an increasing number of things Jenny


Advice about Math in Middle School


Homeschool middle schooler for more rigorous math?

June 2013

My son's in a middle school in OUSD. This coming year, OUSD has pretty much abandoned any serious advanced math program in 7th grade (and may well do so in 8th grade as well, based on the district's version of the new Common Core math standards, explained to parents at a meeting hosted by the district earlier this year). Their solution for kids who want to get to high school calculus is to take both algebra and geometry in 9th grade - which is ridiculous.

Trouble is, math is the subject my son most excels in, and loves. He didn't place into the one single advanced math class being offered in 7th grade in our school. This required a very high set of standards - he didn't get the required As in both semesters in 6th grade math, due to organizational issues with homework, and not to lack of understanding; many of his math proficient friends didn't make it in either. 6th grade had no advanced math classes, and he's been terribly bored all year long, covering material that he learned in 4th and 5th grade, and learning nothing new. This summer, he's actually begging his father and me to teach him algebra. We both have degrees in math, and work in math-related fields, so we could easily do this. But if we do, he's going to be even more miserable in math class next year. I don't want to totally home school my son (I have a full-time career; he's an extremely social child - and a preteen!). But, would it be possible, even legal, to pull him out of school for math only, and teach him ourselves? Or, would it be better (at this extraordinarily late date) to find a private school that still has openings, and enroll him, hoping that the math program there would be better? frustrated with OUSD

have you thought about it's in downtown berkeley, it has both during school (for homeschooled) and afterschool programs, it started in math and science but is broadening out. lots of motivated kids, small classes, etc. maybe there is an afterschool class that works for your son? anon

Can your son take classes at a local community college? Students can do so while in high school, so I'm thinking you can at this age, too. This is done frequently by students at my son's high school--at the high school orientation there were lots of questions about how the transcript issue is handled.

The situation you are describing reflects something about how arithmetic is taught in elementary/early middle school. OK, most of this needs to be learned, but arbitrary standards for speed and accuracy - external or via a within school competition for spaces in more advances groups - end up holding back kids who may well be long ready to learn more abstract mathematical concepts or may benefit from more challenging applied math problems. You are spot on with your worry about your son being bored, because some kids do tune out and and do not realise when it's time to pay attention again, which can then result in them failing.

If you have the resources to go private, that may be good for many reasons. However, from what I have heard from other parents and experienced myself, private is no guarantee for good math classes. Why? Because good math teachers need at least two kinds of skills: math and communication. People with that combination of skills can find better paid jobs in IT and biotech, especially in this area.

In my view, the priority is to foster a good attitude including an excitement about problem solving and a love for mathematical structures. Can you let go for the specific expectation about your son being taught algebra and geometry as defined by the California State curriculum (whatever that may be) and instead focus on getting your son's brain active with interesting problems? Marilyn Burns' books ''The I hate mathematics book'' kept my spirit up under similar conditions a long while ago - and I became a mathematician. Still, math class could be painful; my middle school math teacher turned a blind eye to my reading books secretly. For Vi Hart ''doodling in math class'' has become a theme, lot of inspiration at her blog:

When my daughter faced similar issues recently, we did supplement a bit at home doing puzzles from books, the AMS08 competition and Math Counts Despite some tension due to her sense of independence and our occasional overdose in interference, it was a fun type of challenge for her.

The best thing I came across is a weekly Math Club ''Brain workout'' organised by a parent initiative, the Russian Academy in South Berkeley. I highly recommend it. They also have summer camp and a newspaper, and all info is here: Best of luck, Julia

I can not address the partial homeschooling option for you, but here is my advice as a parent and a former teacher. I was not particularly happy with the math at OUSD.

As far as enrichment, you actually have it easy, given you are comfortable teaching math AND your son wants you to teach him--this may change; adolescence does that.

The ultimate goal is for him to excel at and enjoy math. You rightly worry about his being miserable in math class.

FIRST: Explore private schools and if it doesn't work, GO to his middle school and demand that he be placed in the advanced class. Mention that you and your husband were math majors. It is (perhaps a bit) obnoxious, but unfortunately most people are intimidated when you bring up math. Additionally, (see the section below) have him do a few problems and bring those in. IF you have the time, inclination, and your son's permission, you could even offer to help either do a math club at the school or help organize a competitive math team. This gives the school a benefit and a way to save face.

SECOND Do teach your son more math, but stay away from Algebra. Suppose, you did a wonderful job at teaching him all of Algebra 1, what would this accomplish? A bored child in an Algebra class! Teach other topics in math, say probability or statistics--the latter if he loves baseball. For a rigorous summer of math you could use the Art of Problem Solving books:, ''Introduction to Number Theory'' or ''Introduction to Probability''. The probability book supposes some Algebra, but you could get through the first third of the book without much if any Algebra. Another option, less rigorous would be to use the ''Calculus by and for Young People'' book. It has been used with very young children, so lack of Algebra is not a problem. Given your particular situation, a lesser choice would be to dip in and out of the Singapore Math series, it's not a bad choice, but I think the previous two are better given you and your son.

THIRD, another option would be,let him do math by programming math problems, etc. in Scratch, a graphical programming language. It's free.

FOURTH, I don't think there are any but see if any of the local math circles are meeting over the summer.

LASTLY, in order to teach your son habits of mind not generally taught until college, give him difficult but age and ability appropriate problems, from something like, Problems of the Week, to let him work at problems that are not solved quickly. Bring out a piece of paper and let him explain what he thinks the solution might be and how he to solve. Best of luck Nick


13yo cannot manage to get a good grade in exams

March 2013

My 13 year old has 6 A+ and one B ( for algebra) My husband occasionally helps her with math. She also has a weekly tutor. My husband and her math tutor are quite puzzled. She is very quick to comprehend math concepts yet cannot manage to get a good grade in exams. She is very keen to study science but not being proficient in math will hold her back taking Chemistry etc in High School. I can't put it down to exam anxieties and this problem does not manifest itself in her taking exams in other subjects or piano exams etc. I would love to hear about a tutor or method to help figure out this problem. Thanks in advance. Perplexed

Oh my gosh, give your poor daughter a break. She's getting a B in a class and you're looking for a miracle to solve this ''problem'' and are worried she can't take chemistry, etc. in high school?

No one is perfect, and you're asking her to be. She gets the concepts. In some classes she's just going to do better than others. This does not mean she can't advance, succeed, take science, etc. The biggest impediment I hear to these things is the pressure you're putting on her by wondering what is wrong that she can't get an A. Not just an A, but an A+.

There can be lots of reasons why she's not getting an A. Teacher exams are unclear. She's missing some concepts from the previous level of math. She has a good grasp of the basics but can't quite put it together on the tests. Her brain hasn't developed sufficiently. And on and on. B is good enough.

My father put so much pressure on me to get good grades--and I did. And he grilled me on every grade the slipped slightly or wasn't an A. I'm an adult now, and no one cares what grades I earned in high school, but it took me years to be able to feel pride in my accomplishments. When an A is the only acceptable grade, achieving all As is both a maximum and minimum. Just reading your post brought back all that misery. Tell your daughter you are proud of her extraordinary efforts and that she's doing great.

Sorry, but you need to get some perspective on this. A child who is getting those grades does not have a ''problem''. A problem is when your child really doesn't understand the lessons or concepts and there's a lot of frustration and tears and anxiety. A problem is when they don't do homework or study or space out in class and leave tests blank. A problem is when they're failing. The part of the brain used to understand math is simply not the same as the part used to understand words. It sounds like she's certainly understanding it and can do 100% in a non-test situation but simply doesn't do *quite* as well in a test situation. Tests are timed and it's easy to miss a step or make a simple error in calculations, even when there's no anxiety. It might simply be there's not enough time to check all her answers. The use of math in real life is not a test situation. Getting a B will not hold her back in any math classes as long as she is understanding the concepts. Mom of Two

Some questions: How did your daughter do with multi-step processes like long division? Can she work with fractions and proportions? Does she understand the idea of undoing?

Algebra is the abstraction of arithmetic, and often with algebra earlier math confusions pile up, so if students who need to think too much about earlier concepts, they lose the overall understanding of the problem.

There is also a lot of growth in the regions of the brain that control the ability to understand abstract ideas around 15 or so, so moving Algebra to eighth grade has made it much more difficult for many students.

My suggestions would be 1) Don't let your daughter overgeneralize the situation -- it isn't the worst thing in the world to get a B; and something that seems hard now, may well seem easy the next time she sees it in a year or two. (My daughter has a friend who somehow managed to decide that ''I can't do math because girls aren't good at math'' despite the evidence all around that some girls at their school are very good at math. Presumably her parents didn't know that 30% of tenure track profs in math/stats are women.) 2) Play math games like Set, Mastermind, Connect-4, and Ken-kens with her to develop her logical thinking. 3) Talk to the teacher and the tutor and see what they've observed about your daughter's learning style. 4) If she has been accelerated let her repeat Algebra 1 in eighth grade. a math teacher

How nice your daughter is so accomplished! 6 A+! And a B in algebra! Good for her! Be grateful she is dong so well. Why are you so concerned about a 'B'?? How much pressure does a 13 year old need to have? Is she upset? Is she upset that her grade is disappointing to you? Let her be..... appreciate her...she will learn science (and chemistry) just fine if she doesn't feel like a failure. learned that lesson

A miracle worker? Your child's grades are exceptional. Rather than push for perfection, rejoice in your daughter's accomplishments and let her know that she is doing extremely well. A ''B'' is a very good grade. Needing your child to get straight A+'s is your issue, not hers. If she understands the material then she'll be fine in chemistry when she gets there. Your daughter clearly works hard, has great study habits, and is bright. Let her be.

I say this as a parent of a kid who gets good grades, and as an alum of a highly competitive high school. Seared into my brain is a memory of one of the best students in my grade banging his head against his locker because he'd ''only'' gotten a 97 on a math test and was certain his future had been ruined. Doesn't believe in perfection

Be happy with the 6 A pluses and ignore the B! mom of 13 yr old with BPluses and 1 A

I've been tutoring math and physics for 30 years here in the east bay and I'm an electrical engineer. Reading your post made me cringe. If you want your daughter to do well in math then back way way way off. Otherwise you will turn her off completely and she will drop from a very respectable B to C's or maybe even D's. Leave her alone. Give her math mind time to mature and don't ever even mention her grades in math other than to say, with deep sincerity and appreciation, ''Wow, sweetie. That's GREAT that you got a B in such a difficult subject. Why when I took algebra, I totally sucked at it.'' I'm on my knees begging you, please leave your daughter alone. And then she will surprise you by getting B's and sometimes A's all the way through calculus AB/BC followed by getting into some of the finest universities in America. Sean

A ''B'' in math at 13 yrs old is fine, especially if you believe she understands it. Also a B in math at 13 certainley does not preclude one from pursuing science... And remember her interests may change in high school or college or later. I recommend that you keep up the thoughtful and positive support, let her know how proud you are of her hard work. And dont make her feel ashamed of a B. she is probabaly hard enough on herself already. Scientist who got a B in Math at 13


College Prep Math in Middle School

Jan 2013

My daughter goes to a private school in the East Bay and they have just started teaching College Prep Math in middle school (I think also sometimes called integrated math but not sure about that). Her current school goes through 8th grade and we are planning to send her to a private high school -Head Royce, Bentley, College Prep. I have several concerns. Do private high schools teach CPM? Is it hard to transition from CPM to traditional math? Will private high schools look at this negatively when she applies for admission? I will be following up with these schools but would love to hear from the community too. I have been looking online at reviews (including BPN) of CPM and haven't seen anything very positive. Has anyone had a positive experience with this teaching method? Thank you everyone for any information you can provide. Math mama

CPM is an excellent choice for a middle school math program because it strikes a nice balance between developmental, hands-on activities, and developing abstract reasoning. Teaching calculus, I see so many students who were pushed into abstract curriculum too early, and have difficulty remembering basic fraction and integer operations because they never had the hands-on experience that a curriculum like College Prep Math provides. math geek


BUSD Middle Schoolers with Math Ambitions

April 2012

Hello - my 5th grader is one of a cohort of kids (10 or more) who'll all head to Longfellow in the fall, which I'm quite satisfied about in general. I'm happy that Longfellow has wonderful math teachers. But I understand that a significant percentage of their students enter in 6th grade being 'below proficient' in math. Consequently, much effort goes towards helping those kids gain proficiency in 6th grade. Meanwhile, this cohort of kids including my child have come from a teaching experience where their teacher worked diligently to challenge them in math, and now most of them are well beyond proficient. Does anyone have any ideas about how to keep this cohort challenged when it comes to math? (They're all doing Spanish immersion so they're all in the same class.) I'm quite willing to hear about afterschool/evening options for math challenges. Hire a tutor to work with any of these kids in afterschool sessions off-campus? Other ideas? I don't particularly want to force the school to make special accommodations because 1) I do believe their focus should be on bringing kids up to proficiency, and 2)these requests to the school only result in school staff thinking you're 'entitled'. Any ideas out there? math curious

I think your instinct to look for enrichment, rather than acceleration is the right one to foster long-term understanding and enjoyment of mathematics. Math Circles are a great way to learn more mathematics (often at more advanced level than school mathematics, or exploring topics like number theory and topology that K12 mathematics usually doesn't have time for.)

Here's the general web site:

The Oakland/Eastbay math circle meets at Laney college and is pretty easy to take a group of students to on an informal basis. When I attended most of the teachers leading the activities were Cal Mathematicians/Grad students leading activities on topics related to their research. The wonderful thing about this style of teaching is it starts off with easy access points and then goes into an understanding of deeper mathematics.

Berkeley Math Circle -- which is more of an Eastern-European style circle and pretty competitive.

My understanding is that if you want to set up a math club/circle the people at MSRI/Math Circles will help you. What you would need is a sponsoring teacher and a group of parents to organize/supervise in the afternoons. This might be a second step after attending another circle for a year or so to understand how they are organized.

Another possibilitity is The Julia Robinson Math fair at Stanford is coming up in May. The festivals occur at different locations several times a year (Cal is in January.) These are half day math festivals where students can try many different problems and experience math in an exciting environment.

If the children you want to encourage to think more about math are girls there is an ''Expanding your Horizons'' conference at Mills College where students/grad students from Mills and Cal present math and science workshops for middle-school and high school students.

Math Paths is a sleep-away math camp aimed at providing support and education for future mathematicians. It starts at 6th grade. It's aimed at students who love solving problems and are interested in mathematics competitions.

This year at Longfellow a small group of 6th graders that met several criteria were offered a more challenging math curriculum beyond both the standard 6th grade and the math challenge workbook. It is my understanding that this course will be offered again in the fall. If your child meets the criteria s/he will be invited to be challenged. I am sure you and your student will be happy at Longfellow. See you on campus. Cherene, Longfellow PTA President

At Claremont Middle School in Oakland, a parent started a club called MathCounts for kids who love being challenged in Math. They meet outside school hours and do proofs, etc. and compete (very successfully) in region-wide math competitions. Advanced kids have also requested to join and succeeded by participating in math classes above their expected grade level. Two plans you might put into action! Good luck!


Math workbook recommendation for 8th grader

July 2011

Hi: I am looking for a (pre algebra) math workbook for my daughter who will be entering 8th grade in the fall. Have you found any math workbooks to be particularly helpful? Any you particularly like (or dislike?) Do you know a local place where one can buy them? Thanks LR

Here is the workbook we used to review Algebra for our student: Larson Passport Prac WB Bk3 Pe 99 Looks like Amazon doesn't sell it anymore, but some people are still selling it.

There is also the Dummies book: that you should be able to find locally.

We are using a Dummies workbook for review of Geometry before school starts in a few weeks. -Math Review ever summer!


Girls & Math - Self-Confidence

June 2009

My daughter is starting middle school this fall. She's always been an excellent student, with particular strengths in language and art. However, her math skills are good - not extraordinary as are some of her other skills, but more than adequate. However, a couple of weeks ago she said to me ''I'm not that good at math.'' I know this isn't true, and that she is comparing her math skills to her reading and writing, but I'm concerned that at 11 years old she's at an age where self-doubt in girls about math abilities is reinforced, even with teachers who make an effort not to do this. I'm searching for resources that will help shore up her confidence about math. She doesn't need a tutor, just to know that she CAN do this and her skills and abilities are fine. I looked at the books by Danica McKellar, but they are designed to make math fun for girls who are into celebrities, hair and makeup, etc. - things in which my daughter has no interest. Does anyone know of other ways to build confidence in this area? We live in San Francisco but are usually in Berkeley on the weekends. Don't need another mathphobe

I am a soon to be retired math and physics tutor. In spite of saying she doesn't need a tutor, that is the single best way to inspire her. A good tutor's main job is not to improve her grades (most of my students are b+ or A students even before they come to me), it is to make the student confident in their math abilities and to inspire them, and hopefully even make math their favorite subject. One-on-one tutoring is in any case so much more powerful than ANYTHING a classroom teacher, public or private, can do for a student sitting in a room with 20 or 35 other students. You seem to be looking for books to do this complicated, difficult task. The Danica books you mentioned are the only ones out there that I have seen that are somewhat in the direction you are looking but it seems you don't feel they are right. Frankly, I just can't see a kid that age getting inspired by yet another book. She needs someone sitting right next to her sowing her that she can be the top math student in her class. There is nothing more inspiring than being very good at what you do. When other students start coming to her in class to ask, ''Wait a minute, how do you do that again?'' she will soar.

One other thought; almost all of my top math students say they are not good at math (in spite of their A's). I ask them why they think that when it is so obviously not true and they always say, ''Because it's so hard.'' That's because math IS hard. It is not some candy- ass subject like English or history where the biggest challenge is to try to stay awake as you read about the dusty battles of Napolean. In math you must USE your brain and actually THINK. And this is a hard thing to do. You can almost feel your brain in pain as you try to work through a problem. So tell her, just because math seem hard, doesn't mean at all that she is not good at math, it just means that even for smart people, math is hard.

My daughter was the same way, but later on, in high school. I kept reinforcing that she was a great problem-solver and some math is more interesting, complex, or challenging than other types. We forget that there are all types of math (arithmatic, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, word problems, etc.). I think if it's broken down into smaller bits and she sees that she likes or feels more comfortable doing some types, and the others are not as easy to grasp for her, it's not like she's not that good at ALL of it... It's like learning a language. She's young and has not yet discovered all the areas of math. Some people grasp the concepts and some have a harder time of it. Some have that kind of head and some don't. I don't think it has to do with gender at all. I think it also depends on the teachers that you get. So, keep in touch with your daughter's math teachers over the coming years.

PS I was not very confident in math when I was young and now I see that part of it was because I didn't have any guidance as to how to LOOK at it. I'm a great PROBLEM-SOLVER, love puzzles and playing pool, and that's what's it partly about, but no one one really broke it down that way. I also had an awful foundation...'nuf said...

Good luck! anon

From my perspective, it is nice just to piont out things around you and your daughter that are math related, and see how they help show us things or help us make decisions. From the ''price per oz.'' on the shelf labels at the grocery store, to graphs and charts in newspapers, to food labels, to cool diagrams and hands o activities at science museums (Cal Academy, Larence Hall of Science, Exploratorium). Lots of hands on physics has a huge math component. So just noticing and discussing a little bit may help her feel more comfort with math concepts, or see how she already uses them.

Perhaps she would like to have a more instant recall of basic math facts (i.e., times tables). Ask her if she wants help with that, then you two can work together on quizing each other this summer. Knowing the times tables inside and out can make the rest of math much less stressful, at her grade level.

Consider what tyope of math she did this last year in school. Many folks are better at spacial stuff than they are at equations (or the other way around). If this is the case, you can encourage her and remind her that everyone has strengths, and each of us has to work hard on something.

The last bit: if an honors math track is offered where she goes to middle school, ask her if she is interested, and if she isn't, don't push her into it. It is likely best, in my opinion, that she excell in the regluar class than bomb in an excellerated class. Her near- term success, may set the stage for future growth i skills, and at least, won't squash her self-image more. Mom

One of the things I noticed is that the girl's basketball team of which my daughter was a part in middle school was also composed of top students. They usually did their math together before the game, and it was *fun* because they all cared. They were all very competitive which meant they competed in math as well as basketball, but were a team so they helped each other on homework. So look for a supportive ''team'' that values studies (avoid solitary sports like track - you're looking for team support) - it can be sports like basketball or perhaps a club like drama or art or language (you'd be surprised at how smart some of these kids are - memorizing lines or constructing sets is hard work and takes skill). Good luck. Lynne

Three authors Wendy Lichtman: ''Secrets, Lies, and Algebra,'' which also has a sequel (I read the first, my daughter read both and loved them); a middle school girl sees the world in terms of math, and tries to solve a mystery. Set in North Oakland/Berkeley, so the locations are fun to read & the classroom part is right in the details.

Marilyn Burns: ''Math for Smarty Pants,'' and a number of other recreational math books.

Theoni Pappas: Books for kids (and adults) about math topics and history.

You could ask Diesel to order the books for you, or go up to Lawrence Hall of Science and see if they are in their bookstore (the best bookstore in the east bay for math/science books for kids and teachers.)

You could also check out some of the math games (SET is my favorite; or Mastermind); and ''Family Math'' a book that LHS puts out with games for families to play. math teacher

My middle-school-aged daughter (now in 6th grade) LOVES the Expanding Your Horizons Conferences. If you want to encourage your girl's self confidence and love of the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) -- these workshops are for them (also some have parent workshops). My daughter enjoyed the one at SF State so much (her first conference), she then went to the DVC and Mills College conferences. We'll be signing up for more. Sign up early because they fill up fast! Brenda


My daughter wont even try at math anymore!!

Sept 2009

My daughter has just started the 7th grade, and already she is complaining about her math class. (Pre-Algebra) My husband and I have tried many different tutors in the past 3 years, and they have helped to a degree. However now, Christina wont even try or attempt to work on math. She is now telling me that ''she isn't smart enough'' to do math, and that she ''wont need it anyway.'' I have tried reassuring her to no avail. My husband and I really don't know what to do about this. Any advice out there?

Hi Our 5th grader had a HUGE math phobia starting in 2nd grade and worsening to the point of sobbing nightly over math homework in 3rd grade. We finally found a great tutor who has completely transformed our daughter into a mellow, confident math student. Deborah Brunelle's information follows: Deborah Brunelle Learning Specialist roomtolearn [at] She is a gifted teacher and has truly made a difference in all of our lives! Good luck. anon

You don't say if your daughter is doing well in her other subjects or not. If she is doing really well in language-based classes and only suffers in math, the school should investigate the reason for that discrepancy. It sounds like this is really hard for her. Math changes at a certain point in the curriculum and kids who got by with rote memorization of procedures and applied them to easily recognizable formats find that without comprehension of concepts they can't cut it. There are other learning issues that might explain this problem, but your daughter's refusal should be taken as a comment on the degree of difficulty math poses. Don't let her suffer too long! Ask the principal of her school to assess her if this refusal doesn't seem to ''fit''. Math confidence is really important, especially for girls. It can come from knowing a lot of math, and it can also come from knowing why math is really hard for you to do. Self-esteem suffers when kids think that they're ''dumb in math'' or get told they are not trying hard enough when they are truly doing so. Good luck. It's a process Linda

You have my sympathy. I have two grown daughters, and I remember the ''I won't do this dumb math'' stage very well. In my opinion, a 7th grade daughter's brain is well on its way to being conditioned for independent motherhood, and it's hard to teach it anything it doesn't want to learn. I would forget about math and concentrate on the positive things. Does your daughter still like to do some things with you? Then count your blessings, and quietly (almost non-verbally) share your wisdom about being human. If your human activities include some applied math, so much the better. But don't worry. You've already taught her 95% of what anyone can teach her. You won't see it for many years, but there is a lot of your own goodness locked away in your daughter. Best wishes A Berkeley Nerd

My daughter started to have trouble at about the same age. My niece had tried Kumon and had great success so we decided to try it. It has helped my daughter tremendously and I would highly recommend it. Kids will complain that they have to start at a place that is below where they are in school but the whole purpose of the program is to build a foundation. They want the kids to start someplace that is easy for them so they can feel successful and then move on to the next level. There are Kumon centers all over the place and you can find them on the internet ( The kids go into a Kumon center to take a little test and then they know what level to start your child at. They are then given work to take home. They are supposed to complete one packet of work per day, it takes about 20 minutes. They then go into the Kumon center twice a week for about 45 minutes. My daughter's mental math is really great now and it makes it so much easier for her now that she is in geometry. She never really complains about going to Kumon and I never have to nag her to complete her work. Kumon only costs $100 per month which I think is a great deal! Kumon Believer

Our 5th grade daughter started intense math phobia at age 7 peaking around age 8 with sobbing, protracted math homework meltdowns to rival any 2 year old tantrum. We were absolutely at our wits end and unable to help her ourselves. We found an amazing math tutor who has completely turned our daughter's math identity around. I highly recommend that you contact Deborah Brunelle, Learning Specialist her email is roomtolearn [at] The transformation from complete paralysis to comfortable confidence has been truly astounding to us. I hope you will give it a shot. Good luck anon

So many students feel ''I'm not good at math'' or worse. No child needs to feel this way if they are taught in a way that they can understand. Many children, particularly right hemisphere kids (aka ''big picture learners'')- (and adults) who are very creative, verbal, and bright, struggle with math because the procedures they are supposed to ''memorize'' don't form a picture for them.

I would highly recommend finding a skilled teacher/learning specialist/ed therapist who is also well versed in Making Math Real. This is an incredible approach to teaching math and can be used in instruction to support any textbook or math program. Learning Specialists or Ed. Therapists who use MMR will do direct instruction, help students form a picture and link this picture to the math procedures. will give you more info. about their program, but they won't recommend people. Lots say they have been ''trained'' - which might mean they have taken a class or two. But it's more the teaching not the program... you need to find a highly skilled teacher who also uses MMR. Best is to hook up with someone who has also been an instructor (or second best an intern) in their summer camp program. Learning specialists and teachers who have been trained in special education also have been trained to work with lots of different learning styles and can focus in on your child's specific processes of learning. MMR instructor


Math options for middle schooler not being challenged

Dec 2007

We're looking for a good math enrichment website that is free or by subscription that our 6th grader could use for math enrichment (not remedial - he's in advanced math now). We don't want to enroll him in a formal program, but want a website (preferably interactive) we can use when he is home from school or bored. Preferably pre-algebra, intro algebra, or applying math that he would be learning in the 6th grade. Nancy

Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth

I'm so glad you asked that question -- there is a wonderful math website out of the University of Cambridge called Nrich. Each week they have a new problem for levels ranging from about our 4th grade through high school. There is also an archive of the problems.

I've also heard good things about the Berkeley Math Circle, and the Oakland Math Circle, but haven't tried them yet with my sixth grader. Carol


Math options for middle schooler not being challenged

Mar 2004

I'm seeking math options for a middle schooler. He is currently a 7th grader getting an A+ in 8th grade algebra at his private middle school. Next year he will stay at the same school for 8th grade, but his teacher has stated that his math class will consist entirely of independent study, with at most 1 class period/week with her. Aside from the fact that I don't want to pay tuition for my son to teach himself math, my son is not happy about the idea of independent study. It was offered this year and he declined. I also think he will rarely get his 1 class period/week with the teacher. I'm pursuing Honors Geometry at Berkeley High as a possibility and was wondering if there were any other options for him? Any ideas? Thank you

regarding the gifted 7th grade math student -- my daughter is also a 7th grader earning an A+ in 8th grade honors algebra -- her teacher has recommended honors geometry at berkeley high for her next year -- i'd be happy to share the limited info i have with you -- you can e-mail me.

This is in response to the mother who is seeking ''Math Options '' for her middle school son: A very viable option for your son would be to enroll him in a math class at your local community college. Although we home school our high school age teens, I know of several middle school age children who, with the permission of the instructor take college classes. Another benefit is that credit and/or AP standing can be received and applied to your son's transcript. Wendy


Math enrichment for middle school

Jan 2004

My 7th grader is bored and frustrated with his 7th grade math class. The teacher allows him to work independently with another child because they have tested out of the regular curriculum. But he says this just means that they get to work ahead in the book by themselves. He came home saying, ''Mom, I don't like to teach myself math.'' Any ideas or recommendations of classes or tutors? I should deal with the school, but I think that is unlikely to get me any results in time to save his love for math. I have looked through the list of tutors on the web-site, but I'm not sure that a traditional tutor is what he needs. Thanks for any suggestions.

You might try looking into the Educational Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY), a distance learning program run by Stanford University. My son started taking math classes through EPGY 3 years ago when we gave up trying to persuade his teachers to supplement his work and tutors didn't work out. He enjoyed the challenge and as a result was able to take high school level algebra as a 7th grader and geometry in 8th grade. The big downside to the program is its expense, which is $450 a quarter. Another resource you should check out is the Academic Talent Development Program (ATDP) summer school run out of the Education Department at UC Berkeley. They have a variety of classes including math classes for this age group in their secondary division. My son has gone to ATDP for 2 summers now and really enjoys it, because, unlike EPGY, it involves a live math class full of motivated, talented students who all enjoy math! ATDP also offers financial aid. Both ATDP and EPGY have great websites. Maybe have a look. math mom


6th grader wants to move on to algebra

May 2001

My daughter is doing very well in 6th grade math and would like to move on to algebra rather than taking 7th grade math next year. Have other parents had this experience? How did it work out?

I'm not sure I understand your question. But if your child is being offered honors algebra as opposed to regular algebra, I'd look at it closely. Secondhand observation of one friend of my child's showed that it was very hard. If it's a choice between pre-algebra and algebra, and your child's teacher feels comfortable with that, that course seemed appropriate for my child who had to work hard but not too hard. Also, drop a line to Neil Smith and ask him for a name of a 7th grade math teacher to talk to. He's very responsive. My student has Ms. Mukerjee (sp?) who is very enthusiastic. You might want to talk to her.

Regarding a 7th grader skipping 7th grade math and doing 8th grade algebra. My daughter, now in 9th grade at BHS, did algebra in 7th grade (geometry in 8th and now algebra 2 in 9th). At this point I feel it was the right thing for her, and she agrees. She is alittle nervous about the progression and taking higher levels in the next few years as her other classes become more complicated and the work load increases dramatically (with Latin and other AP possibilities). BUT--she would have been very bored and I wondered if she would have begun to lose interest in math. She has one of the most difficult math teachers and does work hard but is doing quite well. I think one has to look ahead to the path your child would be on and think about the rest of her/his course load. Also going to BHS in 8th grade for math was workable because she went with a small cohort group from Willard so the bus issue, being on campus, etc was an ok adjustment for her.I don't like pushing kids, particularly teens who have so much to struggle with as they grow, but I think in our case it was a good decision. Think about your child as a whole and all the other factors. Good luck. Karen

I am a ninth grader at Berkeley High. I skipped up to Algebra in seventh grade. It was difficult to be in a class where I was the youngest, but once I was used to it, I did OK in the class, although sometimes it was a struggle. I would recommend Algebra if your child is good at picking up new concepts very quickly and doesn't have social issues about being in a class with all eighth graders.

My daughter skipped 7th grade math last year and took Algebra. This year she's taking Honors Geometry early in the day at Berkeley High, then returning to King Middle School for the rest of her classes. She's doing well now, but there were two problems in the 7th grade:

1) At first, she had to do a lot of catching up, because every one else had pre-Algebra and she hadn't - learning new terminology and such. That settled down after a while.

2) At the end of the year, she earned a B, which did not qualify her to take Geometry at Berkeley High. (She needed an A.) In order to qualify, she had to take a scheduled test at Berkeley High, which she did well on, so she got to take Geometry.

The problem is, that if she had not passed the test, we were told she would have to take Algebra all over again in eighth grade, because Math is required and King doesn't have anything more advanced to offer. That would have been embarrassing and disappointing for my daughter, and I fear it would have turned her off to math. I question whether it's a good idea to take Algebra in 7th grade if you run the risk of doing well and still having to take the entire year over again. Beverly


Math in Elementary School


Stanford EPGY vs Khan Academy for 5th grader

Nov 2013

I am looking for some resources to help my moderately gifted 5th grader who is not challenged by the level of math (among other things) in school. She has attended a math circle in the past but it doesn't fit in with our schedule at the moment. Just received a flier from school about Stanford's online EPGY program, which is $115 for 5 months. It seems similar to the Khan Academy online course, which is free, but is hard to tell. Does anyone have experience using these programs? Did they engage your child? The EPGY also has a language arts and writing module but would this be of any use if she is reading at the high school level? Thanks for any insights! 5th grade mom

My daughter, now in eighth grade, has been doing the EPGY on-line math program for about five years now. (She also did the two-week EPGY math summer camp the past two summers.) EPGY is more structured than Khan Academy. There is a test to be accepted into EPGY, and there are tests to advance to the next grade level. My daughter started in EPGY with third-grade math and was able to work and move forward at her own pace so that she's now studying calculus. She's (usually) motivated to sit at the computer and listen to the lessons and do the problems, so it's worked well for her. Because EPGY is systematic and covers the basics, it complements the Berkeley Math Circle's more varied and unusual subject matter. We haven't tried any of the other EPGY subjects. Robin


2nd grader says she hates math

April 2011

My daughter ''hates'' math. She is not bad at it, but regularly complains that it is boring and too easy. I know this is not uncommon for girls but I am so disheartened to see this happening at such a young age, especially as a female computer scientist myself.

I have talked to the principal several times about the issue, and even had her moved into another class to see if that helped. The new teacher seems to have made it only slightly more bearable for her. I should add that she LOVES this teacher, who she also has for science class, so I do not believe there is a personality conflict going on.

She is really an artist at heart with very strong verbal, visual, and creative skills. It has occurred to me that the real problem is that the Saxon math curriculum just doesn't engage her. I believe the curriculum is great in general - my son is excelling in the program - but no one program works for every child, and this is the only curriculum offered at their school.

What can I do to show her that math is fun, that she can feel confident about being good at it, and that it is not a class to dread? Have any of you been where I am and managed to raise a daughter with a positive attitude towards math? Help please

Hi, It's great that you are looking for ways to keep your daughter interested in math! The book Family Math, published by Lawrence Hall of Science has wonderful math games at different levels for families to play with their children. The book is divided into different content areas (number sense, addition/subtraction, multiplication/division, fractions, etc.) with easy to read directions. No special equipment is needed to play the games. The book is available at most libraries, at LHS in their bookstore, and probably, ahem, on the internet. Good luck! Math is wonderful! And, as a teacher/educational therapist, who trained years ago at LHS in their ''EQUALS'' program, I know that it is a gateway subject for many careers, including medicine, engineering and finance! anon

Sign your daughter up for recreational math classes through Lawrence Hall of Science, and pick up some math game books (Marilyn Burns Math For Smarty Pants); or Family Math; also sign her up for architecture or engineering camp (MOCHA has a good one). School math at that age is pretty limited to computation which isn't all that exciting, but mathematics is much larger than that. Fun math games include legos, connects, zoom, Mastermind, Set, Connect Four. Don't let her believe that computation is all of math. math teacher

I'm not sure I understand why your daughter HAS to not hate math. Because you like math? I know plenty of crazed sports fans who have kids who hate sports. That's just the way it goes sometimes. If it's not affecting her grades ... well, I don't think it should matter, or even worry you. Not everyone likes everything. Sounds like she's interested in plenty of other things to make her world go 'round, don't you? -- I hated college English classes, they hated me, and yet I became a professional journalist.

There's a great book called Math For Girls-math is fun and much more interesting in this book. Look it up. Good Luck! Former teacher

As a child in the 1940s, my mother was told that girls were bad at math. She never proceeded much beyond long division. When her daughters were born, she was determined to do the right thing. From the moment we hit kindergarten, she told us repeatedly how good we were at math. As a kid, this freaked me out -- I didn't like math and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why it was so important to her. Would she love me less when she found out I was lousy at it? I felt anxious in math class, and trying to please her, I worked my tail off trying to be ''good'' at it. I ended up making it through calculus in high school . . . with feelings of resentment toward my mother for making it such a big deal. I had an awesome mom, and this is probably more an example of how it's better not to tell a kid that they're good at something and instead focus on the effort required . . . but my two cents would be to approach it from a different angle and not get too hung up on what she should like. Math Challenged


Games and activities for math-loving 2nd grader

March 2011

My son is in the 2nd grade and loves advanced board games, math, engineering, legos, reading, etc. Overall, he's much more advanced academically than socially. I'd love to hear ideas of things to do with him where he can feel challenged with the above interests. He's been asking about math tournaments or board game venues, etc. He does chess, and I'd like to see what else is out there. Also, if anyone has a similar son around 7.5 years old who would like to touch bases then please do. mary

Check out classes at Lawrence Hall of Science and Berkeley Math Circle|bmc_elementary|BMC%20Elementary, held on campus at Evans Hall. I think it might be too late for ATDP, but you could try that next summer. You could also get a membership at the California Academy of Sciences or try classes further afield at the Exploratorium. math teacher

For mathy games, I would try the Rush Hour, Set, and Got It!

The first is a game with a bunch of cars and trucks on a grid and you have to use logic to get them out. There are easy to expert set ups; my 4-year old can do through about #15, my husband (PhD in math) got stumped after spending about 30 minutes on one of the expert levels.

Set is an amazing card game. You have 81 cards which has 1, 2, or 3 figures; the figures can be 1 of 3 shapes; the shapes can have one of 3 fillings; the shapes can be 1 of 3 colors. Lay out 12 cards and work to find sets of 3 where everything is either all the same or all different (so all 3 cards have red ovals with stripes, and one card has 1, one card has 2 and one card has 3 is a set but if there were 2 cards with 2 and 1 card with 3 that would not be a set).

The last can be ordered from Slightly cheesey website but I've ordered from him and gotten the games fast. You lay out a grid of numbers and operators and then try to find the ''goal number'' using the numbers and operators you laid out.

There are math circles for elementary aged kids. My kid did the Berkeley circle last year which wasn't great for him (too much talking by the adults) though it may be different this year and it might be different for a kid who is older than mine was. There are other math circles in the Bay Area, the best one is probably at Nueva School but they only have 4 a year and they just had their last one. I know there are also math circles in Marin and SF.

There are math festivals (the Julia Robinson Math Festival was just held at Berkeley at the end of January and there is another at the beginning of May at Stanford), though they are typically for older kids. I know the Julia Robinson festival shoots for grades 6-12 though some younger kids do go. My guess is 2nd grade is a little too young but it is something to keep on your radar for when he is older.

I've heard good things (but never participated in or been to) the Maker Faire where people make random stuff and bring it in to show it off. It is at the end of May ( Maybe bring him this year and he could build something for next year?

I know there are a couple of rocket-building groups around, try Marin and Walnut Creek maybe. (Sorry, know very little about them.) Anon


Fun Math Book for a 7-year-old

Nov 2006

My second-grader is jealous of the third-graders that he sees with math books, and has asked me if he can have one of his own. He's no genius, but is characterized as ''having strong math skills,'' and entertains himself by making up his own (simple) math problems and solving them. Do people have ideas of something mathbook-like that would be fun for him? Maybe something to stretch him a little but still feel like play? And a good place to buy something like this? Many thanks! Anon

maybe try they have a lot of puzzle books and other activities--have fun! anon

Fun math workbooks can be found in grocery stores these days. My son loved the ones they sell at Longs. There's also a ''teacher supply'' store in Walnut Creek that has lots of that kind of stuff. Even Barnes & Noble in Emeryville has a whole section of learning tools. I think it's in the kids' book section, or close by. It's wonderful how kids love to learn at that age, and it's so fun to watch! -Pam

I have a math-loving 7 yo too. _Primary Grade Challenge Math_ was recommended to me, although I haven't gotten it yet. A mom friend told me she went through the whole book with her children and they each did different levels of questions. Then the next year they went through it again doing the next level up!

A great place to explore math is Lawrence Hall of Science. They have tons of math and logic games out all the time. My son can go there and play those giant-sized games for hours. A great holiday gift would be a membership to LHS!

I recently read their book _Spark Your Child's Success In Math And Science_ which seemed more general than specific to me. But they have many resources listed in the back, including their Family Math products and the parent resource site I like to look at the selections in their store as well as the Exploratorium's store.

I am math and science challenged, despite my father being an astrophysicist. I'm hoping my 3 boys will exceed my capabilities! Math-aspiring

Try Star Education Supply (510) 525-6185,, 10512 San Pablo Ave in El Cerrito. They have more math (and other discipline) workbooks, games and such than you could imagine, for a variety of grade levels. Just hang on to your pocketbook, because there's so much temptation you could spend a fortune! KMS

Try shopping at Star Education, on San Pablo Av. in El Cerrito. They have lots and lots of workbooks. My 11 year old is enjoying his 5th grade spelling workbook we got there eve

Try out the online store for the Exploratorium in San Francisco. I was just checking out stuff there for Christmas presents and they had some fun looking math books for kids Math Also


3rd grader has never memorized addition/subtraction

August 2005

My soon-to-be third grader has never memorized her addition/subtraction tables. Multiplication was introduced last year and she hasn't memorized those tables, either. She counts on her fingers, usually getting correct answers. When I asked her teacher for advice, I was told my daughter is doing fine (so far she's been getting top grades in math) and will memorize math facts sometime on her own since she's bright and memorizes easily. My daughter says memorizing math tables is boring. I donbMarch 1998t think waiting for sometime is going to work.

Can anyone recommend ways to help a child memorize addition/subtraction/ multiplication (and eventually division) tables? I've heard of a device called the Flashmaster ( Has anybody had experience with this? Is it worth buying? I know there's a Korean or Chinese method for using your fingers to quickly calculate but I can't remember how it works. Could that be a better way to help her out since she already uses her fingers? Does anyone know what this way of finger calculating is called and how it works?

There are (free) lessons online that will take you through a step-by-step method of learning the times tables that seemed quite clever to me. Your daughter might have fun working on it on her own. See Good luck! Marta

Hi I just read your note on the Berkeley Parents' Network. I am an educator by training with a few minutes to spare; so, I thought I'd drop you a line.

I think you are right to encourage your daughter to memorize her math facts. And, your daughter is also ''right'' that it can be boring. Unfortunately, memorizing things is part of the ''real world.'' She will need to develop the discipline to do it. Memorizing math facts also makes it easier for students to learn more complex math such as measurement and problem-solving.

The Asian finger-counting is called chismbop or chisanbop. It is fun and I could show your family how to do it. It won't replace the need to memorize math facts; but, it is a fun way for kids to check their own work.

I'd recommend decorating some walls with big multiplication charts, organizing a game of ''math baseball,'' playing with concentration style card games with flash cards, etc. There are also free web-based games and customized worksheets on the web

Depending on what interests and motivates your daughter, you could also set up a contest or reward. There's no need to buy fancy toys or tools if you have the time to create activities on your own. If you are pressed for time (like most of us), I recommend LeapFrog's product line. Hope this helps. Debbie

The finger calculation method you're talking about is called chisanbop, it's simple to use, and you can easily find directions on the internet if you do a google search. I think there is a website by someone named Andy Harris that has good directions and photos of how the system works. Liz

Your daughter is right: memorizing math tables is really boring. If she's doing fine, let her go. I had parents who didn't pay any attention to my scholastic achievements at all, and I tended to be an over-achiever. In fact, I skipped into third grade and was utterly terrified of doing multiplication. Eventually, I just learned it by whatever magic seems to happen to young kids who are paying attention. I don't recall doing any intentional memorization except to the degree that I would get frustrated at not knowing what an answer was (plus what they do in the class), and your daughter may end up doing the same thing when the math gets a little more complicated. What's more important is knowing the concepts and how to derive the answers, and knowing that there are tools (such as memorization) that are available if her existing systems don't work.

In my experience, if you let this slide, and your kid is not very self-motivated, then you are limiting your kid's options later on. My kids never had to memorize much in school (Berk. public schools). I guess rote memorization had gone out of style. There was very little emphasis on memorizing the multiplication tables. As a result, when they got to higher math like algebra, they were at a huge disadvantage. Math was very time- consuming and frustrating since they had to either derive ''4 X 6'' by adding, or use a calculator. Long division was impossible. It just took too long, because they didn't have the tables in their heads. Both kids started hating math around that time, hating doing the homework, hated math classes. By high school it was too late to go back and build that foundation that was missed in 3rd grade. Since math was so frustrating they took the minimum requirements, so they didn't have the prerequisites that would have led them on to sciences in college. Who knows if they'd have loved the sciences and wanted to take that path, but in retrospect I wish I had paid more attention so they could have at least had that option. You are wise to be thinking about this!

My 3rd grade teacher had a record that she played every day for months that had little jingles for the multiplication tables. We all sang along. We started at 2 times everything and worked our way through the 9's. When you sing these jingles, it really sticks in your head and just becomes automatic. You can probably find something like this on Amazon.

My stepson had a pretty bumpy elementary school experience, changing schools often etc. So one of the problems that resulted was that he never memorized his basic math - subtraction and addition! this took years for me to realize...

he took a remedial course in the summer after 6th grade and memorized his multiplication...but in the end, i found out it was his addition/subtraction that still holds him back (will be a freshman in high school this year).

Just sharing my experience because the consequences of not memorizing them are huge! all his math is delayed because you use addition/subtraction in most every math problem and it takes him so much longer and he makes so many simple errors.

For her age, i do think counting on fingers is normal so it doesn't sound like you have much to worry about. But take it in steps, if they are learning multiplication in 3rd grade, make sure she's already memorized addition/subtraction. then for 4th grade, work on multiplication tables...the more they learn in math, the more they will need the basic skills and the longer it will take them to learn if they didn't memorize them already.

Given that, if i had a time machine, i'd put her/him in a program like Kumon, which is very simple, organized way to memorize basic math skills, but also does it using timers to get them to do it pretty quickly and get your kid on it regularly. just like chores, even if they don't want to do it (like they'd rather have ice cream than broccoli), it's something they have to do, and is relatively painless if your child is doing fine in school anyway. even something like 15 minutes every day, have them write down one set of addition (have her add all numbers 0-9 for #1...) and keep it going and make it rewarding.

good luck! whatever you do, don't leave it up to the school. i know some teachers often say not to worry because there are kids doing worse than yours, but that is not the standard you should hold your own kid to! math counts

I'm a 52 yo mom of 2 boys, have a great job with a good income and am well educated. I haven't memorized my math facts either!!! I get along fine in life. I have some of them in my head and sometimes use my fingers. My 14 yo son is great at math... My 10 yo is great at math too but hasn't memorized all his math facts yet either. (I'm terrible at math, but it hasn't impeded my life). I think your daughter will memorize over time without the use of programs, flashcards, etc.(and if not...that's partly what fingers are for). Of course helping her with flashcards or games is great, as long as you're not all miserable in the process. Please relax and don't worry. Especially if the teacher thinks she's doing just fine. Kids develop at different rates. Hopefully she will understand the concepts. Good luck. Non mathamatical mom

I grew up during the Schoolhouse Rock things on TV and my brother and I loved them. My mom bought the album of Multiplication Rock and I still know all my times tables because of those songs: Elementary, My Dear, Three is a Magic Number, The Four Legged Zoo...I believe you can get all the schoolhouse rock episodes on video/dvd. I still know the Preamble of the Consitution because of those things! Little Twelvetoes

I couldn't get my son at that age to even understand the concept of multiplication! You are very lucky she understands it enough to count on her fingers! I spent countless hours teaching my son how to ''count by'' on his fingers. But, once he finally got it, we moved on to listening to music CDs that were based on multiplication. You can type in something like ''multiplication CD songs'' at Every morning we would spend time in the car (they can't get away from it in the car!) on the way to school listening to the songs until he learned the words... and the words were the mult facts. We would dance silly in the car and sing together. Be sure to only play the 2's until she knows it, then the 3's song, etc. This covers the rythym and auditory learning. At night, we would do good old fashioned flash cards. They work! Again, begin at the 2's until she gets them, then 3's, etc. This covers the visual learning. At the same time play games throughout the week that involve mult. My son and I played a game called ''Countdown'' by a company called Cadaco. He loved it! And it's based on mult facts. I still have it if you're interested and nearby. You can also find computer games that involve mult. We used to have a computer game at my daycare that involved ''catching'' the falling answer to a mult problem before it hit the ground. I am sure you can find something like that on the internet. Daily repetition is the key to knowing those facts. That's a proven idea. Good luck and don't give up! Keep at it EVERY DAY and play with her, study with her, praise her and have fun doing it all! lisa

One possibility for learning the facts is any game you already play that uses dice. You can buy dice with 10 faces, or you can tape higher numbers to the faces of the dice you already have. You can also play 21 with cards (the first person to get 21 without going over wins.) There's also Difference War for practicing subtraction (you each take two cards off your pile, find the difference and the one with the smaller difference wins.)

Most of memorizing math facts for kids without learning differences is related to overpractice - practicing often enough so that memorization is automatic. Games make it easier to have that practice. There is a game Equate which is like scrabble but with equations instead of words.

There are a number of tips on memorizing facts on the Math Forum (at Drexel) website. Look at the Elementary Archive.


I can Give the ''Making Math Real '' program, based in Berkeley, very highly. It has been very helpful to my math-challenged 4th grader.They have a It works! hoffmnds


Encouraging 2nd grader who loves math

Oct 2002

My kid loves math and is doing above her grade level. She is in the second grade. How should I support this love, and supplement what she's doing?

I've already talked with the teacher and in-class possibilities seem limited. We play games from the Family Math book, and I know about ATDP. Has anyone done the Lawrence Hall of Science classes? Do math tutors (for encouragement, not remedial) help? I don't want to overcommit her afterschool/weekend time because I think kids should have time to ''be kids'' - but - it's not happening in her school. A common dilemma, it seems.

Thanks for your thoughts (general and specific). Any advice helpful (except for moving out of state, lol!) anon

You might look into Stanford's EPGY courses for your second-grader. You could also encourage your school to purchase the program. Many schools do (ours won't) and schools pay less than parents for the software. Seems like a legitimate use of GATE funds. Good luck. Eirik

First of all, THANK YOU for taking the initiative to support your daughter's interest in mathematics. As a mathematics teacher, I am sad to report that gender bias in secondary school math and science, while less overt than twenty years ago, is still alive and well in our classrooms. Our only hope rests with parents such as yourself who have the courage NOT to impress upon your daughter that mathematics is not a feminine endeavor and she would be better served reading fiction or learning to knit (both worthwhile tasks in their own rights to be sure). After all, the talking Barbie doll saying Don't you think math is hard? is not that distant a memory. More recently, in the comic strip Mary Worth (I'm not a regular reader but it happened to catch my eye this day), a young girl returns home from school and hugs her mother, stating that she was doing her family living homework. In the next frame, the girl says I like this better than math class to which her mother responds, Me, too. Lest you think me overly paranoid, why not English class or gym or Social Studies????? Mother and daughter agreeing to take a jab at mathematics reflects our collective indifference to how we teach young women generally. Without being overly critical, were I your daughter's teacher I would be thrilled beyond belief that she was asking for more mathematics. Stepping off my soap box, let me then offer a few concrete suggestions. Limit exposure to books espousing the magic of mathematics. Indeed, Harry Potter isn't responsible for the fact that every number of the form xyyx is divisible by 11. The more hows and whys your child learns, the better (and more confident) mathematician she'll become. And, of course, she'll LOVE it even more. Mathematics is all about patterns, and younger children, as we know, can't get enough of patterns. Next time you're at the 7/11 (OOPS! Sorry everything is a math reference!), pick up a few bags of Skittles. Open each bag and count how many of each color you see. Do those numbers differ across bags? What about the total number in each bag? It's a straightforward jump to histograms and simple descriptive statistics (although that may be too advanced for 2nd grade). Then, with your child, of course, use the Skittles to make squares and triangles. For example, the simplest triangle she'll see is with three Skittles, but you can make one with six and then ten (arranged like bowling pins). See if she can find the pattern in the total number of Skittles required to make the next sized triangle. Try making squares. First, you'll need four then nine (like putting a Skittle in each box of a TicTacToe game). Notice any patterns in the totals here? Can you separate your squares into triangles? If so, in what pattern? This exercise can introduce your child to triangular numbers, square numbers, rectangular numbers, pentagonal numbers, on and on?..What's even more beneficial is that your child is all the while reinforcing simple number facts in a way that does NOT involve endless worksheets with forty facts a page. As you introduce your child to the multiplication table (I'm not quite sure how advanced she is), have her take the standard 10 by 10 table and turn it 45 degrees so it looks like a diamond in front of her. Place a pencil covering the numbers 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc. (which, by the way, should be a familiar pattern from the Skittles game) and ask whether the pencil could act as a mirror for your table. Without bogging down your daughter with phrases like the commutative property of multiplication, you can help her discover that reversing the order of multiplication does not alter the result. I would be happy to share more but perhaps I should close. She would love the book Math Curse as well. And, above all, DON'T let her NEAR a calculator! Feel free to email me for further advice. Feed her fascination, and she'll be hooked for life. Enjoy! David


Why are kindergarteners studying patterns?

Dec 2001

We have been looking at K classes for our daughter for next year, and we are curious about the patterning projects we've seen displayed on the walls of several K and 1st-grade classrooms. The patterns involve colored strips of construction paper that are woven together, producing checkerboard formations, or sometimes children appear to be transferring a letter pattern (like ABACABA) to a corresponding color pattern (e.g., red,blue,red,yellow,red,blue,red). I have asked a few teachers what pattern work is for, and all we have been told is that it enables the learning of math concepts. Could anyone provide more explanation of pattern work and its use in math learning? We are really curious; neither of us learned math in this way. It seems like an awfully abstract leap for Kindergarteners. Anonymous

Putting objects in order and discovering/creating patterns are basic learning tasks for young children. It helps them learn to compare (by size, quantity or another quality) and to distinguish or make sounds, objects or actions having a regularly occurring sequence. This is basic learning about the world around them which falls into the math category because it has to do with quantifying objects or events. Comparing quantities and discerning repeating patterns are fundamental to simple arithmetic. The ability to order items from smallest quantity to largest quantity (seriation) means a person can count with understanding of the meaning of the numbers (rather than rote recitation of the words, one, two, three...). The fact that children generally enjoy pattern work and spontaneously create patterns during free play is another indication that this is meaningful curriculum. Louise

Patterning is the conceptual precursor to functions, i.e. algebra. By learning and creating patterns of increasing complexity, children learn how to do things like count by threes (or fours, or whatever). Then they learn how to do patterns that have patterns within them -- and they learn to predict what's coming next. Algebraic functions enable us to predict, too, but in the symbolic language of math.

When they're transferring a pattern from one medium (colors) to another (letters), they're making the link between concrete and symbolic thought. Then perhaps the teacher will guide them to translate from the symbolic letters to another patterning medium -- perhaps shapes. So they start to see how symbolic representations can be useful.

One of my favorite patterns is that of Fibonnacci (sp?) numbers -- 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89, etc. Can you figure out the rule for the pattern? The cool thing is that fibonnacci numbers are ubiquitous in nature -- the number of petals on a flower is always a fibonnacci number. Follow the spiral of a pine cone, and count the notches -- it's a fibonnacci number.

When I taught kindergarten, patterns were my favorite part of the math curriculum. -- Sandy

I volunteer in my daughter's kindergarten class and I'm responsible for doing a math-related activity with a group of 5 children every week. The activities are assigned for me every week, and a lot of them have to do with having the children make and describe patterns, or arrange objects according to various criteria of similarity. I must say that from this (albeit limited) experience I am extremely skeptical about the value of these activities. It's hard to get the children to get interested in them, e.g. you tell them to arrange coloured tiles or buttons into a repeating pattern, but they always want to make them into flowers or swords or animals (which I can see is more interesting and satisfying). And it's not clear how it's going to help them learn about numbers. My daughter hates doing this kind of thing and has never got into it, but she really enjoys doing simple arithmetic problems and learning about numbers. So I guess I am also curious about whether there really is a rationale for this type of activity. I'm not that concerned about it, since we can always teach her arithmetic on the side, and I don't expect every minute of kindergarten to be educationally enriching anyway, but I still do wonder what all this learning about patterns is supposed to do for the kids. Hannah

One type of math that your child will learn in school is working with numbers, and later variables, in which operations with numbers are generalized. The other part of math learning that children are being prepared for is working from patterns to math statements, which is one of the main ways we describe the world. For example, in the early grades, your child will build squares or cubes with side lengths and heights in various sizes. Later, in algebra, your child will write equations representing how the total numbers of squares or cubes changes as the length of a side increases, or they will look at how perimeter and surface area change. In calculus, they will see problems where they are asked to find the minimum use of materials to enclose the maximum area given specified constraints. Students who have had experience building patterns in the early grades will be able to visualize what they are doing when they are solving these types of problems, rather than relying purely on memorization to solve them. Patterning has always been part of the curriculum -- think back to the clapping songs we learned, or the placemats and macaroni covered boxes that we made for presents. The difference now is the greater emphasis on patterns, which probably came about because some kids had enough experience with it from their own play in crafts and using building toys, while other kids (mostly girls) entered abstract math classes with insufficient concrete experiences. So, look for kindergartens where the children are making patterns using a variety of materials, and are talking about their patterns. Carol

I would like to add that working with patterns supports other areas of the curriculum, as well. Language is filled with patterns, and children who learn to look for them are spared from memorizing rules. Reading instruction in the early grades relies a great deal on explicitly teaching children to recognize patterns in written language. For example, children learn that rhyming words generally follow the same spelling pattern. They use this knowledge to read and write new words. Loralee


Mathematically-gifted 8-year-old

Sept 1999

I need advice about resources for mathematically gifted children. My son, age 8, lives and breathes math. At age 4, he could count to 120 by by 6's, convert feet to inches, and determined that my husband, then age 40-1/4, was 37 and 13 quarters. Last week, he calculated that 10 to the google seconds is 10 to the 86th millennia (or something like that). My husband tells me that is roughly right; I confess it is a bit beyond me. My son is bored silly in school, and I am wondering: (1) what can I legitimately expect (demand?) of the public school district in the way of enrichment; and (2) what resources are there outside the school system for a kid like this? Thanks for any input.

Stanford offers a program for gifted youth. Take look at their website for detailed information.

I think enrichment programs are at the discretion of the school district. You need to contact the principal or district and ask them about testing your child and what programs are available. Someone told me that all school districts are given money from the state to establish programs for gifted students.

Look at the following web site: They have a mailing list which may be able to give you more details.

The state of California's Education Code is at the web site below. See Chapter 8. Good luck.


Times Tables -- when?

March 1998

At what age do kids learn their times tables these days? Or maybe I should ask, at what age should they know them? I know some kids in 5th and 6th grade who have been taught to count on their fingers, and that's where they're still at. I'm shocked, but maybe for no good reason? Carol

Re: Times tables - my son is in the 3rd grade at LeConte Elementary here in Berkeley and he is learning multiplication, although they do not seem to be learning the times tables per se. I distinctly remember learning them myself in the 4th grade. I'm toying with the idea of teaching him the times tables this summer, as a fun thing to do in the car. Chanting the times tables is almost the same as chanting a poem, to me. Dianna

At school my daughter learned the times tables (through ten) in third grade. At the beginning of fourth grade they reviewed the times tables and extended them through 12. (It's possible they began the process during second grade, but I don't remember.) Susan

Our kids were drilled in facts (+,-,x, division) in 4th grade. They had 1 page sheets of each type which they kept testing themselves on to get their time down (and kept graphs of their progress.) Barbara

Regarding learning multiplication tables. Mastery (memorization) in 3rd grade with review in 4th grade. It was a class/home project to learn addition and multiplication math facts in third grade. Kathryn

My son is in the 5th grade and he is not very familiar with the multiplication tables yet although he does know it. He still needs to think a little (and I'm sure do some adding in his head) on it. However, I learned the multiplication tables in Taiwan as a first grader and was definitely able to give the full multiplication table (up to 9's) by the end of 3rd grade. Since I was definitely anywhere among the top of my class then, I know that children are capable of knowing it by start of 4th grade.

I think the educational system here tries to avoid memorization (maybe a little too much in my opinion). I think at some point, the kids just have to use memorization/repetition to memorize things. We try to do alot of math with our son at home. We do try to help him to do some repetition in writing the multiplication tables and continue to review with him. At the same time, we try to let him use it on a daily basis whenever we can such as grocery shopping at the local store, or even when he buys candy with his own money. Diane

Like Diane, I learned my times tables (up to 9's) at age 6. My mom and I just sat down together and chanted them, with a little cheat sheet with nine columns of decreasing length, organized by 1 x _, 2 x _, etc, to 9 x 9. The memorization certainly didn't hurt my later learning of the concepts behind multiplication; in fact they probably helped me see the patterns that times-ing makes, better than I would have otherwise . (I remember little diagrams with squares made out of dots; and also noticing how there were nine 1 x _ facts, eight 2 x _ facts, and later I realized this had something to do with commutativity....) I think it's not a bad thing to have these facts in your head without having to punch them into a calculator; this way you're better able to tell when a typo or whatever has been made and the output is way off in the wrong neighborhood. Not that memorization solves everything... later my father tried to teach me algebra by rote, which is kind of inappropriate. But for the times tables early memorization really does a good job. Joyce


Math for Pre-Schoolers


Science and math activities for mom and 4 year old

Oct 2009

I am looking for fun science and math activities and games I can do with my four year old. The advice for helping kids learn language is pretty well advertised (read to them, talk to them, expose them to letters) but I have had a harder time finding suggestions on what to do for math and science. We have always counted together, and I sometimes ask her word questions to get her thinking about addition, and we sometimes play 'store' to play around with addition. But I feel like there has to be more. To be very clear, I am not looking for flash cards or trying to push my daughter or make her childhood overly academic or anything like that. I'm looking for fun things we can do together that will expose her to math and science, and let her explore at her own pace. I'm sure BPN'ers have lots of ideas and I look forward to hearing them! Thanks! Sarah

I was a science teacher for 11 years and have always enjoyed science. Math fits very well with science in terms of counting, recording data, making graphs, pie charts, analysing data, etc. I look for teachable moments. For example, my daughter finds mold on something. So what is mold exactly? Why does it grow on certain things and not others. There great resource books at Lawrence Hall of Science on home science experiments. I bought a cool book at the Exploratorium and we did an experiment where we poured agar, innoculated the dishes with home bacteria, and looked under a home microscope on what grew. We recorded every day the amount of growth, colors, etc. I used it as a way to teach the Scientific Method to my then 8 year old. Any time they ask ''why'' is a great time to say, ''Wow, that is an interesting question. Let's find out!'' There are many teacher resource sites on the internet that can also outline easy science activities. Look at insects under a magnifying glass in the back garden. Look under rocks for salamanders. Look in ponds for what lives in there, maybe taking a small fish net and a clear glass jar for ''finds.'' Watching drops of food coloring dissolve in a pyrex dish full of water was also a big hit (what if you change the temperature, blow on the water, etc.). Just make it fun! If they act bored, move on for the time. kl

Use real life situations as much as you can, these seem to be the most fun for kids. Teach your child about the coins and what they are worth. Let them pay at the store even if they don't understand how much it costs or how much they should get back.

You said you are doing counting. Modify it a little. Ask them to count from 5 to 9 and skip 8. It presents a challenge! Then go to higher ranges. Then ask them to count down.

In the car we also play games where I give a word, the kids say what letter it begins with. Or I say a letter, and they have to come up with the word. Then give words and ask them what the last letter is (be careful! you have to choose these words carefully for young ones)

Flash cards are not fun, I agree, but there is nothing wrong with giving some flash card like problems but orally. Again, we do this often in the car. You can also try problems that are ''too hard for them'', but talk them through it and help them break it down. 9+5 is really 10+5 then you subtract one. And 10+ 5 is easier.

Ask them how many strawberries they ate. Tell them they had 5 strawberries the first time and 3 the next, so how many strawberries in all?

I'm not sure I'd worry about science lessons per say, but visiting lots of places can lead to explanations that would fall in that category (e.g. golden gate bridge, and read the signs and talk about how much cable is used). There are lots of little things, like your cheerio floats in the bowl, do you think a coin will? Why is there water on the outside of a cold glass? Just help them observe things and find explanations for them. - teaching opportunities everywhere

Start at Lawrence Hall of Science -- visit the bookstore and buy Family Math, and browse the other math books with activities for young children. Sign your child up for one of the camps/classes as well. Books: How Many Snails by Paul Giganti -- actually, your best bet is to go to the library and ask the librarian for more book choices.

  Other ideas: Counting at the store -- i.e. can you help me put 5 apples in the bag. Sorting/organizing objects -- buttons, cards, coins Counting coins -- Games: Lotto Connect Four Blocks legos Classifying leaves (get a book to help yourself with the vocabulary) Observing bugs, insects, birds 

Have Fun! carol

I've bookmarked these two web sites for great math games that are fun for kids.

The latter has a listing of many fun games on the first page. You might also investigate the literature on Making Math Real which advocates fun ''real life'' activities for learning math. It was invented by a Berkeley professor. For science, there are these great little cards of science projects that you can find at any good book store. parent of math challenged kid

Early math skills involve sets, patterns, correspondence, more, fewer, etc. Beading is one activity that comes to mind--you can work with color and shapes to make patterns. We have pop beads, but also real beads from the craft or bead store ranging from plastic pony beads to crystals. Also cooking or baking from a recipe where you measure ingredients. Coloring/activity books have dot-to-dots, and some have some other beginning math activities. My daughter (now in K) has a Disney princess sticker activity book that has activites like put these stickers in order from the most to the least, and count the number of widgets (e.g. brooms) in a picture. Carrie

for a four year old, everything is one big old experiment: Science and math activities:

  cook (measuring helps math and the cooking is science) texture experiments (blind fold them and let them put their hands in cooked spaghetti, pudding, dried beans, etc...messy, but fun). make a baking soda volcano collect leaves and bugs grow a plant from seeds study dinosaurs do sun prints teach sorting and patterns: buy some tiny teddy bears from lakeshore learning...they are rainbow colored...have them sort by color, do patterns, count them. put pepper in a bowl of water, drop in a drop of dish detergent. beans in a jar. count them. study them. 


I would suggest They Might be Giants, Here Comes Science Album. I am a science teacher and one big difference I see in my students is just kids who are aware of science vocabulary when they come into my class. The album has great songs that you could sing together.

In addition, I would just recommend getting some toys to help her explore nature such as a net, a bug box or other magnifier. Maybe start a small garden with her. My younger students have always enjoyed the Magic School Bus series (books and videos). They are factual and fun to enjoy together. Good luck. Science Teacher


Math for Adults


Should I try to re-learn math? How?

Jan 2009

I would like some opinions from this smart, supportive community on what may sound like an unimportant subject. It's this: should I try to re-learn math?

I'm in my 50s, a successful professional with a masters degree in history, educated and competent in most areas. Yet I can barely manage what would be considered 2nd grade math.

It's not a problem of memorization. For some reason, it's always been impossible to compute figures in my head. Numbers dissolve and switch position and vanish when I try to work the problem. I've often thought this is what dyslexics go through, except these are numbers, not letters.

The most I can multiply is by five and even then only single- digit numbers. Nor can I add numbers in my head beyond two single-digits. On paper, I can manage a little bit; if I have to add a column of four figures I can usually add two numbers at once, then the two results together.

I've lost quite a bit of money over the years when I've had to calculate on the spot, by overpaying or not claiming money to which I'm entitled. For instance, I've had people stop me from leaving a 5 dollar bill on a 7 dollar check because that's what I calculated to be a 20 percent tip.

I'm used to this I guess, and calculators and computers now can help do the work for me, though I get so flustered and embarrassed when I have to think on the spot, as in a line when peope are waiting.

So my question is: should I try to learn math again? And at my age, how? Is it even possible? This feels like a learning disability, but while I've heard of dyslexia being treated, I've never heard of such a program for math. Is there even a point to pursuing this? Learning to read opens up so many wonderful doors of imagination and experience and joy; would I find this in math, or is the subject just as cold and unyielding as I've always felt it to be?

Maybe I should just accept that I'm always going to be as incompetent in this area as ever, and move on.

Sadder but no wiser

Run, don't walk, to Making Math Real. This is the only math education program for people who don't learn math along the traditional math circuits that I have seen. One of my kids was tutored by two extraordinary teachers in this program, and it was her salvation in math. Additionally, it supported her self image as a learner. Created right here in Berkeley by David Berg, now the program is run (all over the country they are teaching these methods) by David and his exceptional educator wife Karen Zuniga. mom of different math learner

I just read an article in The Economist, Jan 3rd 2009 issue, on the inborn math ability of most babies and some people's lack of this function. According to newest research, inability to do math really is like dyslexia! The emerging term for this condition is ''dyscalculia''. The leading researcher in the field is Dr. Brian Butterworth at University College London. Google search on ''dyscalculia'' brings up lots of resources, starting with which may be of interest to you. Perhaps they have tips on relearning math for sufferers of this condition... I never had any trouble with math, but enjoy mild prosopagnosia (face blindness) instead - it's fun too! Good luck. Great at numbers, bad at faces

You clearly have a learning disability and at your age, they probably didn't know what that was when you were in school. There is certainly help available for you, and I am sure that someone on this list knows where adults go for this sort of help. If you don't get some great suggestions, I'll google this topic myself and find you something! kevin

First, I don't think you're incompetent in math just because your strengths are elsewhere. I think you have a strong psychological block, which contributes to you feeling not good enough. Some people are just not math people, and that's okay. When I was at Chabot College back in the days of stone tablets, I had a wonderful math teacher - Kajiwara. He may be retired by now, though.

While there, I had a retired classmate in your situation. She was re-taking math because it was something she wanted to accomplish in her life. She was slow at understanding the concepts. She utilized the math lab and we studied together and helped each other out in remembering concepts.

I think you should know that math can be fun and maybe you could come to enjoy it (especially if you pursue it in a way that brings you feelings of accomplishment). Talk to the math department at your local JC, and ask who is their most supportive/best math teacher, for someone who needs encouragement and is afraid of ineptitude (which is what it comes down to - your fear that you just can't cut it).

Start with a basic math class, and take it over and over if necessary! Only need to progress to higher levels if that feels good to you. This is about building your own math skill in a meaningful way for yourself - give yourself the time and space to do this. When you do take it, however, you must work your math everyday. The concepts are cumulative and require dedication/consistency.

P.S. If you double the tax on a restaurant bill, that's around 15% or a little more. You could also keep a tip card in your wallet, which is a quick cheat sheet. I love math but my skill is waning as I get older. I used to whip out the right answer on the spot. Now I'm a bit spotty.

I believe that this problem is correctable on some levels through the use of scientific 'brain games'. Check out this fun game and you get the idea. This is geared more toward language but can also help with math:

Also, pick up the book ''The Brain that Changes Itself'' by Norman Doidge and you will see that people with all sorts of similar issues can change their brain to accommodate living in this world. Good luck! Brain Fit

Hi, You might check out the website: The site has lots of info on learning math in non-traditional ways--such as via picture books, etc. There is an associated yahoo group, which might be something you could join for a bit. I've been using the booklists and yahoo group suggestions with my son, and he loves it. Some books that might be fun for you are ''The Number Devil'' or ''The Cat in Numberland.'' Both are fictional books about math concepts that are humorous. There is also a really fun video called ''Donald in Mathmagic Land'' that you might be able to get from the library. There are loads of other books listed, and my son tends to enjoy the funny ones. These also are fun for me, and even though I enjoyed math as a child, I find I am learning so much from exploring math in this way. It has really opened my eyes to what math is, and it is not the arithmetic that is making you crazy. You might also check out some of the books by Theoni Pappas such as the Joy of Mathematics. This book has one page snippets to do with math. It can be read a bit at a time in the bathroom easily:) You can also jump around in it as each page is an independent concept/puzzle, etc. She also has a fun calendar where the date is the answer, and the fun is in figuring out how to get there.

There is also an article you could google too called ''Lockhart's Lament.'' It's a great description of how mind-numbing traditional math instruction can be. Even though I enjoyed math, I really think it is poorly taught in our educational system and I think it strangles all of the joy out of it so that many people freeze at the idea of it.

Anyway, I do think it's worth pursuing and that there may be other ways to look at math that might work better for you. There is also a Teaching Company DVD called the Joy of Thinking that might be worth exploring. These are sometimes available at the library too.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy your explorations. Good luck, and feel free to email me (laurelsjunk [at] if you would like to. Take care, Laurel

Go for it! Math is fun. You might not have a practical reason to learn some of it, but it's a great personal growth activity - like learning a new language.

I try to pick up new skills periodically (I'm learning to program a microcontroller right now - just for kicks).

Here's my method: Post on craigslist (I use ''gigs'' section) as well as at the UC Berkeley career services center for a tutor in the subject you want. Offer to pay $15-25/hour for the tutoring services (if you can afford it). You'll get a lot of responses for math tutoring. Interview some people based on their initial response (just like hiring for a job). Try two or three in an initial lesson and see who you like.

My advice with a tutor is be clear with them upfront how much you can spend each month so they don't expect more time from you than you want. Learning some math should be no harder than learning to play a little piano or guitar.. Enjoy it - math is fascinating. Judiah

Your difficulty with math is not unusual. I teach Making Math Real, mainly to children who are struggling in the classroom, with issues not different from yours, with huge success. They all learn their math facts and concepts, and often reach the top of their class. Math is usually taught as abstract, and those of us who learn visually and kinesthetically are challenged. This math program presents math as the concrete, real subject it is. The presentation is multisensory, reality based. You can learn, I guarantee. And what's more, it's fun. Leba Morimoto lebasline [at]

You could certainly practice with some workbooks on your lunch hour or even listen to books on tape in the car. But I think bringing a calculator along is a smart solution. Don't be flustered, most people would not be rude enough to comment about it, and if they do surely you can think of something snappy to say. (''can't add till I've had my morning coffee!'') Sympathetic

Yes, there is such a thing as a math disability, and there are methods to teach math to people with such a disability. Sounds like your disability has affected your life in some ways, so I would say, yes, find a good teacher who can help you! You won't necessarily fall in love with numbers, but I think it would feel good to be able to calculate tips and to deal with other daily math challenges. anon


Children who are Gifted in Math