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Help for Jr. High Schoolers who Struggle with Math

Help for Jr. High Schoolers who Struggle with Math

Related Tags: 6-8 Middle School
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I am a School Counselor so I don't have teaching experience but I am in the classrooms discussing topics with our students. I've noticed that several 7th graders lack basic Math skills and I'd like to work with them during our 30 minute/day homeroom period. I was thinking about using the old standard multiplication flashcards but the students also need help with subtraction, division, and fractions also. Can anyone tell the best way to shore-up their skills that isn't too "elementary" and will keep their attention? Thanks.

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Kim's picture

Hello! I just read a post from another teacher in a different discussion thread about teaching math to middle schoolers and I recommended a few books to get kids motivated and engaged. I thought I'd post those books here as well since this discussion is specifically about math.
The books are:
1 - Hands-On Math Projects with Real-Life Applications, Grades 6 - 12,
by Muschla and Muschla, published by Jossey-Bass in 2009.
2 - Another book by Muschla and Muschla is Math Games: 180 Reproducible Activities to Motivate, Excite, and Challenge Students, Grades 6-12, by Jossey-Bass.
3 - Mega-Fun Math Games and Puzzles by Michael S. Schiro, also published by Jossey-Bass in 2009. It says that the activities are for elementary grades, but some of them can definitely be ramped up and/or used for review with your struggling students.

Sybrina's picture
Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Hi, Kim,

I'm new to the Edutopia middle school discussion group and was intrigued by your reference to a math discussion thread. Is that on this site? If it is, I haven't yet found it. As a former math teacher, I'd love to "hear" that conversation.



[quote]Hello! I just read a post from another teacher in a different discussion thread about teaching math to middle schoolers

Sybrina's picture
Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Hi, Randy,

Two thoughts came to my mind.

1) When teaching Algebra 1 to struggling students, my colleagues and I used programmable graphing calculators to practice basic skills. The kids loved using the calculators because they knew big kids and serious math students also used them. (It also felt like a more sophisticated activity than flash cards.) There was a colleague on staff who was a programming guru. So, he created programs that generated random problems for students to practice arithmetic facts. For example, one program generated addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems involving whole numbers. Students could focus on just one operation or try their hands at problems involving all 4 operations. Students received immediate feedback as they worked each problem and feedback in the term of bar graphs showing the number of problems attempted compared to the number of correct answers when they were finished. If your school has graphing calcuators, this would be one option. If you have computers, I would think there would be software that would allow for similar practice.

2) In addition to resources previously mentioned, Family Math by Lawrence Hall of Science was a favorite of mine. I still remember a fabulous lesson on the meaning of mean, median, and mode. To be honest, I don't know if it's even still in print. But, if you can get your hands on a copy, it might provide a couple of interesting ideas.

Good luck!


Tom Bronson's picture
Tom Bronson
Middle School Math (including Alg I, Geo, and Alg II) from Tampa, FL

We use the following websites to practice:
aaamath.com - Play 20 questions....the kids love it
funbrain.com - Be wary of games that aren't as mathematical as we would prefer.

and, most recently, freerice.com.

I highly recommend freerice.com because, for every correct answer, the site donates 10 grains of rice to the United Nations Food Network. (This is an INCREDIBLE opportunity to discuss the value of 10 grains of rice globally).

I also agree with Sybrina's idea for graphing calculators. What makes them really want to use them is if they write their own practice programs. If you use TI's, I could give you a reasonably quick lesson in TI-Dos and a program for them to write. Even if they almost entirely copy the program off of the board, they still feel ownership of it. As an added bonus, they start trying to figure out what they are doing, which takes them to a higher level.

Finally, if you don't have computers or calculators at your disposal:

Play "24" with them. You can buy the game or make up your own cards. Essentially, you give them 4 numbers and they have to "create" an answer of 24. Ex: 1,2,4,9 One answer would be 9 + 4^2 - 1. It allows them practice order of operations and all of their basics at once. Plus, it makes them think. Plus, it teaches them that there is almost always more than one way to get to the answer. Plus,...

Give them dice or cards. With a partner, play war with the cards where each person flips a card and both players have to multiply the values. First person to answer gets the cards. Ties have to be left on the table and get carried over to the next round. You can do the same thing with dice and a tally sheet. Get 20-sided dice to add to the challenge. By the way, going back to the cards, you can do a lot with integers by using black cards as positive and red cards as negative.

I could go on and on. Basically, avoid the flashcards. If it seems like work to the kids, they aren't going to get anything out of it. Inspire them to want to know their facts and they will.

Just my 1/50th of a dollar,


Sybrina's picture
Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach


Can I just say that Tom is right on about students learning to program calculators? I remember how teaching a simple programming lesson to my kids -- because a genius programmer I was not -- and how a major light bulb came on for a few of the students. One young man I remember in particular was an underperforming student with a C average when it came to traditional lessons. But, boy you should have seen what he could make his calculator do! And, all because he learned about programming.

Tom Bronson's picture
Tom Bronson
Middle School Math (including Alg I, Geo, and Alg II) from Tampa, FL

Just introducing programming to your kids is huge. Sure, you'll get the kids who begin to live 24/7 with their calculators and quickly surpass you in ability to program. Those kids are a given. The kids that are the most amazing are the ones that don't seem to get it. When you plant a seed, you'll be amazed at what grows later on in life.

I had a girl in my 8th grade class who seemed to have no interest at all in programming. She went through the motions, but her apathy was only overshadowed by her general disdain for the work I asked her to do. A few years later she called me and asked if I would help her pass AP Stats. While we were working together, she pulled out her calc and started thumbing through her programs. Some of her programs were really impressive (well beyond what we did in 8th grade) and I asked her who taught her to write programs. She looked at me like I had two heads and said, "You did." I said, no, who taught you this level of programming and she replied with the same answer. Nobody else had ever shown her how to program and she couldn't have cared less about it when she was in my class. Yet, somehow, she was able to pull from what she got and build on it a few years later. Now, I don't mean this as a slam against her, but I guarantee that if she was utilizing programming in high school, many (if not most) of my ex students were and are doing it as well.

One final note to put a smile on your face: When we finish our Matrices unit in 8th grade Algebra II, we will always spend a couple of days on how matrices are used in encryption. We will then write a program that takes a message in text form, translates it into numeric code, multiplies it by an encryption matrix and spits out a list of numbers. We also write the sister program to take that list of numbers and translate it back into words. A couple of years ago, one of my ex students was talking about how the programs that we wrote were the key means of communication at his high school. Even students who didn't go to my school for middle school had a copy of the two programs. They were passing notes in class that had been run through the encryption program so that the teachers wouldn't be able to read them. What I found the most funny was that he asked a girl to prom with an encrypted note and she accepted...also in code.


Sybrina's picture
Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Smiling -- really big. :)

Okay, this is not going to help Randy and his struggling students, but it is a programming story involving a struggling student that I have to share. It may be the only time that I laughed aloud uncontrollably at a student response.

I'll call the young man J for our purposes. In general, J was not a fan of school -- and he definitely was not a fan of math. One day, I instructed the students to run one of their programs for something we were doing. J, who normally did not make a peep without significant prodding, made a loud growl/grunt/moan of a sound. I had to ask what had happened. He called me back to see his calculator screen. It turns out he had not entered any programs for himself the entire year. He had managed to get a friend of his to do it for him. As it turned out, anytime that J started a program, his calculator displayed a screen with the message, "J is a dumb-[expletive deleted]" and J had finally reached his breaking point. Needless to say, he at least learned how to delete that command from his programs after that day.

Seriously, Tom, if your kids are writing and running programs to create encrypted messages, you really need to touch base with Doug Smeltz. Are you on facebook? If yes, I can arrange a cyber meeting between the two of you.


Tom Bronson's picture
Tom Bronson
Middle School Math (including Alg I, Geo, and Alg II) from Tampa, FL

That's really funny. I'm surprised some of my entrepreneurial students haven't started doing that. I have some students who sell their programs for $1 each (simplifying radicals, quadratic formula, etc). Programs that they created outside of class that help in checking homework and such. I'm surprised that they haven't created start up screens like that for those that they sell to. Too funny.

I think I've met Doug. When I attended MELT at App State, they mentioned Doug to me. I think I finally met him at the Daytona Regional when I presented there. He has a series of Algebra practice programs, right? I think I have some of them. He's the one who taught me the value of archiving subroutines.

I would love to dialogue with him and I would also love to get back involved in T3. Those were fun conferences with very appreciative attendees.


P.S. Yes, I'm on Facebook.

Ken Cornett's picture
Ken Cornett
Retired: Grades 4 to 12, specializing in curriculum development

The problem with most Grade 7, 8 and 9 students is that they don't know their basic Math facts - it is getting worse since the calculator was introduced.

If you go to www.123math.ca, you can down the Free Addition Program, that has 270 pages of instructions for the teacher, students and parents, over 90 lessons, 28 audio files and flash card designs for the different set of facts.

You can also download the programs for Multiplication, Division and Subtraction.

I taught 7,8 and 9 classes a lot and started with teaching mastery of the multliplication tables - There job was to master the multiplication facts in their grade or they don't move on.

If you would like to email me at ask@photographybyken.ca , I would certainly discuss with you the Multiplication Program.

There are pre audio tests and post audio tests that can identify what multiplication facts they they know and dont know and charts to help them record all of the information.

The program has been used lots and really works. A mother used the program to teach her Grade 3 students (who was either last or 2nd last in her class for math) the program. She started in March, completed the 4 operations by August, and at the beginning of the Grade 4 term was in the top 3 of her class.

The only prerequisite is that the students want to master their basic facts

shanebravo's picture
In the world the parent-child relationship is one of the longest lasting so

I feel that I was teaching basic mathematics, but in a completely wattles way. I was allowing the Everyday Math schedule to rescue the order and the style in which I educated math. The math enrichment teacher was previously a regular elementary classroom teacher. The mathematics solution problem mostly occur in the 7, 8 and 9 students is that they don't know their nodal math certainty. And also for help you can download math application like division, multiplication or more.

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