September 6, 2013

HELP! I’m lost already

I won’t normally send anything remotely close to this, but I feel this is important enough to communicate in such a way.

Every year at the beginning of school I let my students in on a “secret” to success in 8th grade math.  I’ve only taught 8th grade math for 4 years now, but it doesn’t take one long to figure it out.  The students that have A’s in my class by end of the first semester all have one thing in common.  They can all MULTIPLY quickly and correctly.  These students do this without the use of a calculator, of course.  The secret really is that simple.  If you want to succeed in 8th grade math know your multiplication facts and be able to answer them QUICKLY AND CORRECTLY.  The ugly sister of multiplication is division and in my experience most students despise division almost as much as they despise fractions.  The only explanation for disliking division is that students don’t know multiplication.  OK, the rest of this note is for parents:

Parents, we have just completed a small section about converting a repeating decimal to a fraction and vise-versa.  These problems are visible among approximately 70% of my students.

Reducing the fraction 6/9.  Most students struggle mightily to reduce 6/9 to 2/3.  Most students struggle mightily to simplify 8/6 to 4/3.  When I write 3/9 = ?/3 most students can’t fill in the ? with the correct number.  Obviously all of these problems are related to a poor foundation in multiplication.

SOLUTION: I have flashcards that I can loan out.  If your child has a smartphone there are FREE flash card apps that they can use to practice. Khan Academy has a section on multiplying and dividing, they can practice there.  There are websites that have flashcards on them. is a website I’ve used in class before.  It really works on math fluency (quickly and correctly) in a game-like setting.  There are a number of ways your child can practice his/her multiplication facts.  This is true, he/she will feel like they are swimming upstream if they do NOT know their multiplication facts in 8th grade math.

I get parents/students who always say “Well can’t they use a calculator Mr. Oldfield?”  Sure they can.  But eventually you can not put 3x – 18 = 42 into a calculator and have it spit out an answer.  In 8th grade we just do some things where it is extremely crucial that they be able to multiply and divide quickly and correctly.

I hope this helps.  I also hope that I do not sound angry or mad.  I’m not.  I try to differentiate my classroom as much as possible.  In my next note, I’ll reveal some of my gripes about math in public school 🙂

Derek Oldfield