Monday, July 3, 2017

Why Xtra Math Didn't Work for Us . . . and What Did

Math Drill is incredibly important to Math Success!
I'm a firm believer in Math drill. 

My Mom was an Elementary School teacher who specialized in Math. She said that the secret of elementary math success lay in mastering drill - especially of addition - so that there was no hesitation, and the answers were automatic.

I, on the other hand, was taught "New Math." It was an educational catastrophe - and I'm pretty sure that Common Core math is the same thing with a new name. The focus was on math logic - which was good, but drill was considered unimportant. The theory was that if you knew the "why" behind the math, you could always calculate the answer - by counting, doubling, or some other "work around."

As a result, I became one of those students who tested well in math logic, but horribly in computation. Which meant that eventually I could do a formula perfectly, but still get the wrong answer because I made mistakes when doing simple tasks like adding 7+3, or multiplying 8x6!

By the time my Mom realized what had happened and tried to fix it, my math anxiety had become way too severe. 

Of course, when I decided what to study at University, half of the options were closed to me because, like so many American kids of my generation, I was "bad at math." I thought it was a condition, like dyslexia, that was simply the result of bad genes or whatever. I know of no great mathematician who made a habit of counting on his fingers while calculating multi-page equations!

I didn't realize that it was something I could fix!

Then, I started teaching my daughter, and learned that

I wasn't a victim of a "learning disability" but rather a victim of bad teaching.

When I began teaching my daughter, I also mastered those facts that I had never been able to master before.

I was determined that my daughter would have a better math education than I had, and better than what modern traditional schools offer.

She would learn her facts thoroughly, though drill, as well as learning the logic behind math.

She mastered number concepts, counting, and became fairly proficient - but a bit slow - at flash card early on.

So, we started a long relationship with Xtra Math to drill those math facts. We spent years trying. And it was VERY slow going, and proving to be very frustrating for both of us, too.

Every wrong answer, or slow answer brought instant negative feedback from the computer, intensifying her anxiety.

The more anxious she became, the more mistakes she made - and the more frustrated I got with her for not doing a good job! I remembered my Mom getting frustrated with MY math anxiety - and I forgave Mom for it all! I understood how she felt! ; ) And, I asked my daughter's forgiveness for my frustration. But, I still didn't know how to fix it.

Although my daughter was ahead of the curve on math logic, she was lagging in math drill (sound familiar?).

I thought that Xtra Math was ideal because it timed every question, and made sure that a child could not compensate for not knowing 8+3 by being really fast at 2+0. It seemed perfect.

At long last, after much difficulty and years of trying, she mastered Xtra Math addition.

Subtraction should have been easy - after all, subtraction is reverse addition - and she KNEW all the facts. But it wasn't. It, too, was taking months because of the anxiety produced by the program, and the temptation to guess in order to meet the time requirement.

Finally, I began to think about what my Mom, the math educator, had told me about Educational Psychology.
1) Children should ALWAYS give the right answer - never the wrong one. Otherwise the wrong one gets "stuck" in their heads! Repeating the RIGHT answer is the key to successful memorization.

2) Pressure is counter-productive, as it produces anxiety.

But, Xtra Math focused on speed before accuracy. Since the questions were timed for a 3 second response from the first day, the temptation was to guess and get a wrong answer. And answers that weren't speedy enough were "wrong." And, if a child got frustrated and guessed too many times, their scores were set back for several days, making it take even longer to overcome the hurdle (which has a good side, in teaching children not to throw a temper tantrum when frustrated - but still made the frustration even worse).

Finally, I went back to the age-old method of printing out drill pages - those pages of 100 questions that have to be done in 5 minutes. 

I told her to first focus on getting EVERY QUESTION RIGHT - no matter how long it took - and then we'd work on speed.

And I discovered that while on Xtra Math she had only been getting about 50% correct, on paper, she was getting a pretty consistent 100%

Then we worked on speed.

And, we bought a little prize to look forward to 

 - - from the thrift store (there has ALWAYS been a prize on offer for finishing a level - so that wasn't much of a change, but having the prize purchased and in the house was a great motivator!).

After getting the prize (a mechanical dog named Creampuff) it only took her 1 1/2 days to finish it!

And, in about 2 weeks - she beat the subtraction time!
100 questions - ALL correct - in well under 5 minutes!

The same SPEED as required by Xtra Math -but without the negatives.

So, while Xtra Math does work great for some kids (I'm not meaning to insult the program here, just offer my own experience) try some old fashioned paper drill pages if Xtra Math isn't a good fit for your kid.  You can find them at this link.

It just might be the secret to success for your child

So, to find some great FREE worksheets that WORKED FOR US - check out this link Great Math Worksheet Site

This is being shared on
Happy Now 
Love to Learn 
Wise Woman 
Literacy Musing Mondays 
Think Tank Thursdays
Booknificent Thursdays
This is How We Roll
Home Matters

5 comments:

  1. I find written drills work best for my boys too! Thanks for sharing with us at Love to Learn; Pinned.

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  2. I am so encouraged here by your learning about learning. Every child is different at their speed of math. Speed is important but accuracy is the elemental importance. Thanks for sharing on the #LMMLinkup this week.

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  3. Wow, thanks for sharing this information at the #HomeMattersParty! As a mom of many (from 14 - 43 years old) I've seen lots of changes in how education is handled over the years, and I too have realized that all of the "new math" theories really don't help students get the correct answer. So we've gone with math drill pages for our younger girls as well. I'm going to be following some of the links you shared for our home education times. Thanks again! Would love to connect with you again on my blog at Vintage Mama's Cottage. Have a great week, Nina @ Vintage Mama's Cottage

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  4. Thanks for sharing this interesting perspective and for linking up at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com! Tweeted!
    Tina

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  5. I have found anything timed to cause anxiety and even block my kids from coming up with answers I know that they know. Learning sticks if it's fun and not when it's stressful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on different methods on the Love to Learn hop!

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