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How to conquer a Math Beast

(ROCKWALL – October 26, 2013)  Quick! What is 2/3 of 240 6/229?

Becky & Bob Barnes

This is the type of problem that can cause a student to dread math. Just the thought of the computations involved is enough to frighten even the bravest young mathematician.  Multiplying fractions and mixed numbers! Ugh! Solving this problem will probably take a little division as well. Double ugh!  Yet there is a much simpler way to solve this problem without ever putting pen to paper. All it requires is a little “number sense.”

One of the most basic number sense skills in math is seeing the whole and its parts. It occurs throughout math from addition to differential equations and beyond.  Let’s see how it applies to the two numbers in our question. First, let’s look at 2/3. Fractions tell us two things – how many equal parts the whole is divided into and how many parts to take.  So 2/3 means we are to divide the whole into three equal parts and take two of those parts.  Next we can view the mixed number 240 6/229 as a whole thing whose parts are 240 and 6/229.  If we want to find two-thirds of a whole thing, we can find two-thirds of each part and add the results together.

When we combine these two ideas we first find 2/3 of 240 (by dividing 240 into three equal parts with each part equaling 80) and then take two of those parts. This would give us 160. Now, divide 6/229 into three parts. This may seem daunting, but consider that if I divide 6 bananas into three equal parts I get 2 bananas in each part. In the same way, if I divide 6/229 into three equal parts I get 2/229 in each part. And taking two of those parts would be 4/229.  Now we add the parts together and get the final answer: 160 4/229.

Number sense alone can’t be used to solve all problems. However, developing strong number sense skills along with an understanding of the more general mathematical methods, leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation of math.

Children can develop a deep rooted dislike of math due to a teaching method sometimes called “Drill and Kill.”  This method uses the never ending worksheets or flash cards to master basic mathematical facts.  Next time you would like to review these skills try making a game of it by using a deck of cards.  For example, Go Fish can be played to help younger children learn the complements of 10.  Instead of asking for a number to make a pair, ask for a number that can be added to make 10.  Compliments of 10 (we call it “10 Friends”) is a fundamental skill that children need to master early to help them succeed in math.  Whether your child is young or in high school, a major mathematical goal should be to build number sense along with a deep understanding and lifelong appreciation of mathematics.

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By Blue Ribbon News special contributors Bob and Becky Barnes with Mathnasium Learning Center, 919 E. Interstate 30, Suite 126 in Rockwall. Email  rockwall-heath@mathnasium.com or visit mathnasium.com/rockwall-heath.  

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