Math issues

11 Terms to Know If Your Child Struggles With Math

By Amanda Morin

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80Found this helpful

If your child struggles with math, you might find it tough to keep up with the jargon teachers use. Here are key terms to help you take an active role in conversations about your child’s math issues.

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Breaking numbers in a math problem down into smaller, more manageable groups. Take, for instance, the problem of 26 + 42. It’s easier to add these in your head if you break 26 into 20 and 6 and if you break 42 into 40 and 2. Then focus on the different chunks: 20 + 40 = 60, and 6 + 2 = 8. The last step is 60 + 8.

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Finding an answer by using math operations. Math operations include adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.

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A brain-based condition that makes it difficult for people to do math. Also referred to as a “math learning disability” or a “math disorder.”

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Generalization (of skills)

Being able to use math in real life or to solve a new kind of problem. For example, when a teacher describes a square, a child who isn’t able to generalize may not be able to draw that shape or find a picture of one. For a skill to be generalized, the child must be able to apply the skill in many different situations. So, if a child can solve the math problem 5 + 2, but can’t show you how that works with blocks, he hasn’t generalized the skill.

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Objects students use to learn mathematical concepts by “manipulating” them. Blocks, for instance, are used in classrooms to teach children addition and subtraction, among other concepts.

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Mental math

Doing calculations or estimations in your head, such as splitting the tab at a restaurant or figuring out how much tip to leave.

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Number sense

The ability to use and understand numbers without a paper and pencil. This includes being able to understand how much a number is “worth”; being able to work with numbers (such as adding or subtracting them); seeing how numbers relate to each other (such as knowing that 7 is larger than 2); and using numbers as a way to solve problems.

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One-to-one correspondence

The ability to match one object in a group to a number or another object. An example is counting out loud as you touch each finger on your child’s hand (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) or matching 2 socks to 2 shoes. One-to-one correspondence is so automatic that parents don’t often think about it.

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A process (such as addition or subtraction) that manipulates numbers based on formal rules. Other examples of operations include multiplication, division and finding the square root of a number.

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Being able to quickly say how many items are in a group without taking the time to count them. There are two kinds of subitizing. Both are used in games that involve rolling dice. Perceptual subitizing happens when kids are able to glance at a die and know instantly how many dots are on the top side. Conceptual subitizing happens when kids recognize spatial patterns, such as knowing (without counting) how many dots are on each of two dice and instantly adding those two numbers together.

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Being able to translate numerical information from the spoken version to the written version, such as hearing “seven” and knowing to write down “7.” Doing this for numbers larger than 10 can be hard for kids. This is because the sequence of sounds in the spoken version doesn’t match the sequence of numbers in the written version. For example, if you say “fourteen,” the first sound your child hears is “four,” but the first number he should write down is “1.”

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About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Virginia Gryta

Virginia Gryta, M.S., teaches and mentors students working toward master’s degrees and certification in special education at Hunter College.

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