I’ve always been a failure at coupons. No matter what system I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to do more than save the occasional 50 cents on a bottle of ranch dressing.

But last year, my grocery store created a coupon app. Now, while I’m standing in line, I just pull out my phone, tap a few buttons, and **whoosh**! Tons of savings without any extra time or effort.

Homeschooling takes a lot of hard work, day after day and year after year. Fortunately, some teaching strategies are like my coupon app–quick wins that instantly make your math lessons more powerful, without taking more time or effort.

Here are three of my favorite ways to make my math lessons **more powerful** without any more work.

## 1. What’s the point?

Imagine watching a cooking show where the host launches right into cooking without telling you what she’s making: “First, I’m going to start heating the oven to 350. Now, I’ll mix up some flour, baking powder, and salt.”

Not a very exciting show, is it? It’s hard to make meaning out of a sequence of steps when you don’t know the end goal. But it’s a lot easier to get interested when you know that these steps will lead to a luscious chocolate cake!

Long division may not be as exciting as chocolate cake, but kids pay more **attention** and **understand** their math lessons better when they know the end goal, too.

So, tell your kids the point of the lesson. Even though the lesson objective may be obvious to us adults, it’s often not obvious to our kids. Just a few words at the beginning of each lesson will help your kids understand what to focus on.

“Today, you’re going to learn how to subtract decimals.”

“The point of your math lesson today is for you to learn how to find the area of a trapezoid.”

(My kids usually have** better attitudes** during math when I tell them the goal, too. I suspect it’s because it reassures them that I have a plan and know what I’m doing!)

## 2. Connect.

When we learn something new, our brains immediately try to make sense of it. How does this connect to what I already know? Does it fit with what I already know about the world?

As brain scientist Daniel Wallingham writes in his terrific book, *Why Don’t Students Like School?*

“What do cognitive scientists know about how students understand things? The answer is that they understand new ideas (things they don’t know) by relating them to old ideas (things they do know).”

This is true in all subjects, but it’s especially important in math. That’s because every concept in math builds on previous concepts. Paying attention to these connections helps children better remember what they’ve learned. It also helps them appreciate the **truth, beauty, and goodness** of the subject as a whole.

So, how to point out these connections? There are several ways:

- Connect the new lesson goal to what your child learned yesterday. An easy formula that I often use is
. For example: “*Yesterday…Today**Yesterday*, you practiced subtracting with two-digit numbers.*Today*, you’re going to use the same kind of thinking to learn to subtract numbers with three digits.” This primes kids’ brains to look for similarities between previous learning and new learning. - Some
**spiral curricula**skip around a lot from lesson to lesson. If you use a spiral math program, it’s especially important that you help your child see how the new lesson is connected to what she already knows. Look back over the table of contents to see which previous lesson connects to the new lesson. For example, “Last week, you learned the -9 and -8 subtraction facts, and you’ve been practicing them in your assignments each day. Now that you know them so well, you’re going to use the subtraction facts to solve word problems.” - Ask compare/contrast questions at the end of the lesson to help your kids
**make their own connections**: “How is this concept like what you were learning yesterday? How is it different?” (Note that this is more appropriate for children in the upper elementary grades and older. If I asked my first-grader about how today’s math lesson is like yesterday’s math lesson, she’d probably tell me that both were about numbers!)

## 3. How did I do, Mom?

The last way to make your math lessons more powerful is **simple**, but it can be easy to overlook during our busy homeschool days: correct your child’s math assignment as soon as possible, and help him fix any mistakes.

Research shows that we learn more when we receive immediate feedback. If your schedule allows, keep your answer key handy and check your child’s work after every few problems. That way, you can make sure he understands the concept and isn’t making the same mistake over and over again.

But it’s okay if your schedule doesn’t allow for checking check every few problems. (Honestly, most days mine doesn’t either.) Instead, correct the assignment as soon as possible after your child finishes and go over it together. Point out what your child did well, and have him fix any mistakes.

Hopefully most of the mistakes you find will be minor errors. But sometimes you may discover that your child didn’t get the concept at all. It’s frustrating, but it happens. If that’s the case, just take a **deep breath** and think about how you’ll tackle the topic again tomorrow.

Providing this immediate feedback has several benefits. First, it communicates to your child that the point of completing a math worksheet isn’t just to *finish* the worksheet: the point is to *learn* the math. It also helps cut down on careless errors, since your child knows that he’ll have to fix any errors right away anyway. Plus, it’s good for your **sanity**. No one needs a huge pile of ungraded papers waiting for them at the end of a long day!

Sometimes, making your math lessons more powerful requires investing in new curriculum, spending more time planning, or brushing up on your own math skills. But sometimes, it can be as **easy** as telling your kids the lesson objective, making connections between concepts, or providing immediate feedback on assignments.

Perhaps it’s not quite as easy as tapping a few buttons on my phone to save money at the grocery. But your children’s solid math skills will be far more valuable than that bottle of ranch dressing!

### Kate Snow

*Preschool Math at Home, Addition Facts That Stick,*and

*Subtraction Facts that Stick.*She also teaches courses for parents at The Well-Trained Mind Academy.

#### Latest posts by Kate Snow (see all)

- Quiz: Is It Time for a New Math Curriculum? - April 20, 2017
- How to Make Your Math Lessons More Powerful (Without Extra Work) - March 16, 2017
- 8 Ways to Make Math More Fun - February 16, 2017

I would have done SO much better as a student if I knew the point. Sometimes, it was clear. Sometimes…I never knew (pre-calculus…what was that even?!)

It sure is hard to stay motivated and engaged when you don’t get the point, isn’t it? I find that all the time as an adult, so I’m sure our kids feel it, too!

Thanks so much for these tips. Though I feel we are on the right track correcting the assignments and working through trouble spots, I often sit my 3rd grader down to complete his assignment of the day thinking it is pretty obvious what it is about and how it builds on the day before. This is a good reminder to make the connections before we start and to focus on the “why” as much as the “how.”

You’re welcome, Michelle. On busy days, I often have to remind myself, too!

Thanks, Kate! Your tips really do help; today I used your ‘use simpler numbers in place of big ones’ strategy to help explain a confusing subtraction problem. Worked like a charm!

Glad that using smaller numbers helped! Subtraction can be interpreted in several different ways, so those problems can be really tricky for kids.

Oh my gosh, so simple, yet I see how it could be so effective. Thanks for the tips Kate. Math was a subject I just never got but it was never explained well. I remember struggling all.the.time! I really want to make sure my kids don’t end up in that same boat as I did. And making explaining the point would have been huge for me. Also correcting right away……thank you!

So glad you found these helpful, Jenn!

I want to print out this blog post and keep it with my math teacher’s guide so I’ll always remember these tips for our lessons!