Help your child learn and understand math

It’s that time of year again. Parents and teachers are doing everything they can to get students off on the right foot for the new school year. We want our children to make the most of every moment – every social interaction, science project, and yes, math class.

It’s not a secret that students in the United States consistently underperform in math. Although there are numerous plausible reasons for this, it seems likely that the content of math classes matters.

In typical U.S. math classes, students spend a lot of time learning step-by-step procedures. Although this isn’t inherently bad, the result is a lot of rote memorization without a lot of understanding. For example, why do you “carry the one” on certain subtraction problems? What does it mean to “do the same thing to both sides” of an algebraic equation? I still remember learning to “cross multiply and divide” and not knowing why. Without this deep understanding, students are unlikely to succeed when presented with new math problems and ideas.

One math idea that is particularly hard is fully understanding the equal sign. Students often misinterpret the equal sign, thinking it means “find the total” or “get the answer.” As a result, they solve many problems incorrectly by simply adding all the numbers they see. For example, for the problem 3 + 4 = 5 + __, they often write 12 in the blank (the sum of the numbers) as opposed to 2 (the correct answer).

So how can we get students to solve problems correctly and actually understand why it is correct? Based on research conducted at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, I have several suggestions. Although these minor changes will not solve all students’ struggles in math, they are easy to implement at home or at school and provide a step in the right direction.

1. Provide your child with many explanations of the concept. Too often we spend time telling students the steps to solve a problem without explaining the principles behind those steps. For example, explain to students that the equal sign means that two amounts are the same. In every problem with an equal sign, everything to the left of the equal sign should be the same amount as everything to the right of the equal sign. If I have 12 on the left side of the equal sign, how much has to be on the right side? 12! And repeat this in new contexts. Once is not enough!

2. Give your child a chance to apply the explanations. After hearing an explanation of the concept, students need a chance to use that information. Have students solve a variety of problems that rely on the concept. For example, after explaining the meaning of the equal sign to students, have them solve different types of arithmetic problems. Include problems with operations on the right side of the equal sign (e.g., __ = 3 + 4) and operations on both sides (e.g., 3 + 4 = 5 + __).

3. Have your child explain his or her answers to the problems. Students often benefit from having to put their own understanding into words. While they are solving relevant problems, have them explain how they got their answer and why they think it is correct. For example, for the problem 3 + 4 = 5 + __, you can ask students “Why does 2 make this a true number sentence?” or “Why is 2 the correct answer, but not some other number?”

Written by Emily Fyfe, a graduate student studying how children learn in math in the Psychology Department at Vanderbilt University. These suggestions are based on research conducted at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College under the direction of Dr. Bethany Rittle-Johnson.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the third trimester! Now it’s time to write down your desires for the big day. This is a great tool to make sure your medical team understands your wishes for labor, birth and immediate postpartum care. One or two pages is best; it doesn’t have to be long. Because pregnancy is dynamic, you won’t be able to orchestrate everything, but you can set the scene for what your ideal labor and birth will look like.

Here are five things to include when creating your birth plan:

  1. Who your support group will be. It’s often helpful for your care team to be able to call people by name and know who’s invited to the birth.
  2. Plans for pain management. Flexibility here is important, but it’s also wise to think about your wishes in advance. Pain management can include using the labor tub or shower, knowing your progress before choosing medication or trying nitrous oxide first.
  3. Any special equipment?  This could include a birth ball to sit on, a squat bar to hold on to while pushing, or a birth stool to help support a squatting position.
  4. Special requests. Do you want a mirror to watch or to receive the baby into your own hands? Does your partner want to help receive the baby or be the one to announce the gender or name if it’s a surprise?
  5. A contingency plan. If an induction or Cesarean section becomes necessary, what can give you a positive experience? For some women that means skin to skin contact as soon as possible and a visit from a lactation consultant the first day. One support person is usually invited to accompany mom to the operating room, so this and other standard procedures are not necessary to include in your plan.

It’s not a bad idea to bring your birth plan to a prenatal visit in the last month of pregnancy. A copy can easily be put in your chart, but don’t forget to bring an extra in your birth bag just in case. Happy birthing!

Bethany Sanders is a Certified Nurse Midwife and cares for women at the West End Women’s Health Center and Cole Family Practice. A graduate of Vanderbilt, she is thrilled to be back in Nashville after spending the last six years in rural Northeast Georgia. When not attending births or measuring pregnant bellies, she can be found at the local park chasing after her two-year-old son or talking about cloth diapers with anyone who will listen.

In July 2011, after my son Ethan’s second birthday, we started noticing he wasn’t talking as much as other children. He mostly said one word at a time, never combining more than two words.

He was a late crawler and walker so for the next few weeks we just hoped he would get the hang of it.

In August 2011, we started him in an at-home daycare, in hopes that maybe if he was around other children his age that would help him with verbal communication. We learned that Vanderbilt had a program called KidTalk, which provides intervention for young children with language delays.

Ethan joined the program in November 2011. He was diagnosed with a receptive language delay and tested on the low end of the spectrum for autism. As parents, Nick and I learned what works best for Ethan when it came to teaching him new words. We are so thankful for KidTalk and the wonderful staff; they were always eager to answer our questions, and they were very patient with us as we worked with Ethan to get him speaking on the appropriate age level.

Over the course of 18 months, we all worked with the staff. The visits were sometimes long, but the staff always put Ethan’s best interest first. Most visits consisted of Ethan working with a staff member answering questions through a work book, social interaction between Ethan and his father, and playtime with a staff member or Ethan’s dad.

Ethan’s last visit to KidTalk was in March 2013, and he no longer has receptive language delay. That all this happened before before he started preschool is a miracle.

At any given time the staff at Vanderbilt can be giving a child a heart to love, lungs to breathe or entertaining a child while they sit through a round of chemo. They’re also helping families like ours have an opportunity at an easier childhood.

Written by Ethan’s mom, Rhiannon Parsley

We’re excited to share a special series this month on Wishing Well: 31 Days of Miracles. As a founding partner of the Children’s Miracle Network, which turns 30 this year, we thought it would be fitting to share a collection of miracle stories from our hospital.

Join us each day as we share touching stories, told by our patients, their families and our staff, of health-related miracles involving everything from car accidents to organ transplants.

Stories of miracles can be found in every hallway and every room of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. But the miracles don’t stop in the hospital’s walls. They live on in the millions of special people we’ve treated over the years, wherever their lives have taken them.

You would do anything for your child. So would we. We’re honored to be a part of so many families’ lives.

Each day we will update this post with the most recent miracle from the series. We hope that what we share touches you. To ensure you don’t miss a post, subscribe to this blog here or follow us on Facebook.

Day 1: 31 Days of Miracles Overview
Day 2: Transplant Miracle: Meet Katie
Day 3: Heart Miracle: Meet Jamie
Day 4: Miracle: Meet Pearl Joy Brown
Day 5: Miracle: Baby Has Surgery Inside the Womb
Day 6: Hearing Miracle: Meet Chloe
Day 7: When Miracles Abound
Day 8: Cancer Miracle: Meet Allison
Day 9: Cleft Lip and Palate Miracle: Meet Fin
Day 10:Brain Tumor Miracle: Meet Hannah
Day 11: Speaking Miracle: Meet Ethan
Day 12: NICU Miracle: Meet Lily
Day 13: Ewing Sarcoma Miracle: Meet Miranda
Day 14: Miracles Come in Surprise Packaging
Day 15: Car Accident Miracle: Meet Brittany
Day 16: Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) Miracles: Meet Jonah and Emory
Day 17: Eating Disorder Miracle: Meet Hannah
Day 18: Amputation Miracle: Meet Jay
Day 19: NICU Miracles: Meet Eli & Isaac
Day 20: The Miracle of Music
Day 21: The Miracle of Twins (and Every Other Child)
Day 22: Spina Bifida Miracle: Meet Katie
Day 23: Health Miracle: Meet Matthew Brown
Day 24: Cancer Miracle: Meet Brieanan
Day 25: Down Syndrome Miracle: Meet Lillian
Day 26: The Bare Bones of Miracles
Day 27: Miracle: Cool Cap for Cool Baby Maddox
Day 28: NICU Miracle: Meet Maddie
Day 29: Birth Defect Miracle: Meet Miracle and Destiny
Day 30: An Orthopaedic Miracle: Meet Kayla
Day 31: A Halloween Heart Miracle: Meet Sam


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