Teaching Math When It’s Not Your First Language

The reason I gave this post this title is that Math has always been my weakest subject. It has been the most difficult subject for me to teach. I have actually tutored Algebra several times, because I understand how difficult it is for beginning learners to understand the concepts of balancing equations, using variables and solving for x, because it was so hard for me when I was first learning. I don’t think I was ready to learn Algebra when I was forced to try to learn it in 7th grade. But God sent a friend of my parents to speak a word in season to me. He was a Math whiz whose occupation was surveying. He went through some of the problems in my book with me, and some words from his explanations made sense to me in a way that the words of my teacher at school had never made sense. The light came on, the door was unlocked, and from then on I was able to figure out every principle and problem that was presented to me in the higher Math classes that I took. It usually took some time and lots of work, but I was able to figure them out.

But Math has not been my favorite subject to teach my children. I actually really enjoy the manipulatives that help young children to get some experience with Math ideas and can be used to help even older children picture the operations that they are learning about. And I really enjoy puzzles and patterns that can be found in numbers. But my favorite subjects are Language Arts and History. So after I have taught my children Math up to adding and subtracting and multiplying and dividing, I usually try to find a curriculum that each child can go through on their own since I spend so much time on the Language Arts and History.

When I taught my oldest child Algebra, I eased him into it with a video by Standard Deviants that covered the basics of Algebra. Then I had him go through a workbook that used Algebra Tiles called Working With Algebra Tiles published by Didax.

Then I found a workbook for him that taught Algebra in a way that emphasized real-life application of Algebra since I knew that he prefers to know why he is learning something. He wants to learn things that he will use in real life. We used the book, Real World Algebra.

He was able to work through this book on his own with very little help from me.

Well, along comes the next child that wants to learn Algebra. I wanted to ease her into it, too. I had just recently heard about Hands-On Equations. I wanted to let her “see” how solving equations works. So I went to their website here, and let her watch the demonstration videos. She saw how they demonstrated with manipulatives how to balance equations, and I explained some things as they were going through it. I had watched the videos myself ahead of time. I am really impressed with these manipulatives and techniques. I would buy them if I could. But all my student needed was to see them in action a few times, and she got it.

Then we went to the website at Khanacademy.org and figured out how to get her started on the Algebra track there. She has been learning Algebra on her own ever since. Every once in a while she needs my help with something that she is having trouble with, but for the most part, she is able to do it by herself.

All of this was for free. I would like to get the Hands-On Equations manipulatives for future students. I think that getting to play with them and move the objects around with their own hands will help them to understand better, but this student was very ready and able to learn just from watching others manipulate them.

I have some other little tips to share later on that help make Math instruction easier and more interesting and enjoyable. Sometimes I get ideas for ways to teach concepts while I’m trying to explain concepts such as fractions that are hard to understand without having something to handle with your own hands and see with your own eyes. One of these ideas involved my husband’s socket set. I will be sharing about this later.

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