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Fourth-grade math: Why it’s hard for kids

By Amanda Morin

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Kids who struggle with math in fourth grade are not alone. What’s so different about fourth-grade math? 

In third grade, kids learn about multiplying and dividing numbers within 100, like multiplying single-digit numbers (6 × 9). Kids also start solving word problems and doing mental math. 

In fourth grade, the concepts are more complicated. Students spend a lot of time exploring math concepts like:

  • Multi-digit multiplication, like 26 × 10

  • Two- and three-digit division, like 144 ÷ 12

  • Working with and comparing fractions

The pace of learning also speeds up in fourth grade. Kids learn about new math concepts quickly, so they might not see right away how they’re connected. As a result, they may feel discouraged.

Fourth graders also learn why math works, not just how to get the right answer. They learn to use different models and visuals to solve problems and show their process. This is challenging, but showing work helps kids understand why math works the way it does.

Dive deeper

Math visuals and models in fourth grade

In fourth grade, kids learn to use a lot of math visuals and models to help them understand math. Kids typically see some of this “new math,” like bar models, in earlier grades. But it’s everywhere in fourth grade.

For example, for two- and three-digit multiplication problems, kids have to model the answer. They may be asked to use techniques like area models, box multiplication, equal sized groups, and arrays.

The purpose of these visual models is to help kids see how a problem can be solved in multiple ways. And that’s great for many students.

But some kids have a harder time with visual information. They may struggle to connect math symbols like + and × to a visual. And they may not see how these models can help them organize their work.

Families: See more examples of the models kids learn in fourth grade. 

Educators: Learn more about visual representation and other elements of evidence-based instruction

For families: What to do next

If your child’s math homework looks different from what you expected, that’s not surprising. Kids are learning new, more difficult material. And they’re learning it in ways that may not look like what you remember from when you were in school. This can make helping your child a little tricky. 

If your child is having a hard time with math in fourth grade, talk with the teacher. They can help you figure out where your child needs help. If your child is having a hard time with a specific math model, ask the teacher for an example to follow. You may even want to ask for step-by-step notes.

Try these conversation starters to reach out to your child’s teacher. 

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  • Twitter
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  • Email
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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom