Third Grade Math Homework

The little guy was having trouble with his math homework last night. It was all about baseball teams. Team A scored 7 less than team B, and the total points scored was 18, how many did each team score?

I am not dumb by any stretch of the imagination. I really would like to think I have some intelligence. It has long been known however, in the Sabo-Milner household, that Ima and math don’t have a good relationship. I just cannot get my head around it.

So I am sat there with my son at the dining room table, trying to follow his teacher’s model so I can help him understand how to take care of his math problems. He’s 8. I am almost 30 years older than him. And I had to be honest with him and tell him I was lost. It was humbling and embarrassing.

My seventh grader walks in, and takes one look, tells the ChatterBox – you need to do this this and this, add this, divide by two, and Bob’s your uncle. The little one was able to do the other problems while I am still scratching my head.

Is it possible that I just do not have that processing capability? I once had a math teacher threaten to deport me to Australia just so that he didn’t have to get frustrated dealing with my math handicap.

Sigh! What subjects do you find the most challenging when you are helping your children complete their homework?

Post Written by

No Comments

  1. You are never alone on the Internet.

    This should make it all better:

    LOL – or not.

  2. Rafi says:

    11:2 = 5.5
    team A scored 5.5 points
    5.5+7 =12.5
    Team B scored 12.5 points
    12.5 +5.5 = 18

    If you want to write it with x, which is much easier but usually not done in third grade:
    x = team A’s score

    x + x + 7 = 18

    (That’s the mathematical formulation of team A scored 7 less than B, total score 18 points)

    x + x + 7 = 18
    x + x =18-7
    2x = 11
    x= 11/2
    x = 5.5

  3. Rafi says:

    PS: If the teacher intended the score to be a round number, well, then he was mistaken…

  4. Vicki says:

    I am awful, awful, awful at math and problemsolving and only attribute the fact that I was able to take linear algebra and econometrics to sitting until 2 in the morning on homework in college. As I am studying for grad school GRE exams right now, math is my biggest downfall in life and the only way I see to overcome my handicap is to keep doing more problems. Luckily, husband is an electrical engineering major and math minor, mom has a master’s in math, and one of our best friends is a physics PhD, so I’m never far from someone who is good at math.

  5. STOP! you can NOT hide yourself behind being ‘canadian’ on this one. no, no no. a baseball game does NOT have points. no, no no. it has runs. no one will fault you for not being able to do math (new, old, whatever). BUT, do NOT ever take the national pastime in vain, vein, vaign, veign, or vayn. RUNS….

    now, to be fair, we will give you a chance to redeem yourself. answer the following questions (withOUT asking any male in or from north america): what is the infield fly rule?


  6. Professor Lehrer will make all clear:

    I grew up listening to him, as a neighbor knew him at Harvard.

  7. batya from NJ says:

    I think most of us have our strengths & weaknesses in either math & science or in English & social studies/history although of course there are exceptions & some among us who struggle in everything saldy & other luckier folks among us who excel at everything but I think the average person is either stronger at math or stronger in English & usually not both.

    • Rafi says:

      I beg to differ. If you have a good sense of logic, it helps in math and language. If you have a good sense of language, it helps in maths.

      • batya from NJ says:

        & rafi, you can feel free to differ b/c it’s a free country but that has been my experiences with family & friends that most ppl. are generally stronger in one or another area (math/science v. english/social studies) & we were in fact discussing this exact point with one of my son’s teachers last night at PT conferences…

        • Rafi says:

          Well, of course chances are that you are better at one than another. I just want to oppose the widespread prejudice that being good at languages excludes being good at math and vice-versa.

          Gifts are spread quite unevenly and come in all shapes and forms.

          I just discussed with a friend that having a good verbal memory helps a lot in math.

          • I think Rafi’s right, although I grew up telling myself the two were mutually exclusive and thank goodness for language, since I’m utterly inept at math. (Why you Canadians and Europeans insist on making “math” plural is beyond me – isn’t one “math” bad enough?!?) Seriously, though, I think any difficulty I have in math really stems from HOW it was taught and WHO did the teaching, back when I was a kid.

            I think how I responded to those methods and those teachers had more to do with it than my innate abilities. My third grade math teacher was an absolute WITCH. My dad – with all the good intention in the world – would get frustrated with my “blind spots” and say things like “How can you not SEE this??” As a parent, now, I realize he was probably just as frustrated by his inability to effectively TEACH the concept as by my inability to quickly grasp it, but that’s not what I heard back then.

            I remember two math classes I did well in; one because it was taught well, and one because it was entirely my CHOICE to take it, and my attitude towards it was different.

            I taught my son how to do addition and subtraction of three-digit numbers when he was about four – and have been told that my teaching method (one I invented for this) was clever and effective. We simply made it fun; I drew little elevators for borrowing and carrying things, and we made up little stories about the people and things as they moved from one tower to another. And it started to make more sense, even, to ME. I’d like to test the theory, some day; in fact, my son (now 14) has offered to tutor ME in math. People often learn best by doing and by teaching – so I may just take him up on it. I’ll let you know how it goes!

          • Hadass Eviatar says:

            Excellent points, all. Two things, though, Holly.

            A) Maths is short for Mathematics. You don’t say Mathematic, do you?

            B) Sadly, the clever Rafi posting here is definitely not my son. Thoughtful and mature as my 14 y/o is, this is not his posting style. Hi, Rafi, I love your name!

          • sheldan says:

            Watch it, Holly…do you want to start something with the math professor? ;-)

            Have you noticed how often the Brits (and Commonwealth countries) spell things differently? I guess the “separated by a common language” thing is really true! (Preparing to duck from Hadassah’s throwing :-) ) Just kidding!

    • batya from NJ says:

      **typo-i meant sadly & NOT saldy!!

  8. Math & I are not friends, either. More like… math & I are all-out enemies.

  9. Rafi says:

    Are there half-points in Baseball? Or half-runs? Is 12.5 to 5.5 a plausible score?

  10. Frayda says:

    There is no correct answer to this problem.

  11. Jack says:

    All of this can be overcome- it is just a matter of finding the best way to teach it so that you understand what it is you are looking at.

  12. lady lock and load says:

    I am wondering if this is typical third grade math material. Maybe this was an extra credit question?

  13. Kathy Lentz says:

    Well, changing the problem so we don’t have to deal with a half of a run (since that doesn’t exist in baseball), I’d discuss this with my third grade son differently than I’d do this problem myself. I probably do it as try this number, does it work? No, how about this one. So if I have 3 runs, and you have 11 runs (3+8), do we have 18? No. How about if I have 4 runs? Then you have 4+8 or 12 runs and together we have 16? Is that enough? No. How about 5? I have 5, you have 13, together we have 18. Yes, that works. It removes that whole algebraic formula from the problem and makes it more about adding and subtracting. I mean, I understand 2x + 7 = 18 but I don’t expect a third grader to get it.

    My biggest problem in helping with homework is when the student is too frustrated to listen to the explanation from the ever-so-patient mom.

    • Rafi says:

      I’m not sure whether guesswork is really what they want to teach them in third grade.

      x is the score of A
      B has seven more. so the score of B is x + 7

      A + B = 18
      x + x + 7 = 18,
      the rest see above:
      deduct 7 from each side
      so x + x = 11
      x + x = 2x = 11
      so x = 5.5

      If you try with guessing, you’ll never find out this .5 points, I suppose

  14. Rafi says:

    PS: You know, in fact the presentation with x is much easier in every respect. Just that they don’t use it in third grade at school, not even in fifth grade over here.

    So I stumbled across the same problem with the daughter of a friend, in 5th grade. They had to do equations (that were not called equations) in this style:

    2x + 30 = 150
    But they were not allowed to call x x, they had to put an empty square.

    The problem is: you cannot easily calculate with an empty square. So the girl was at a loss.

    So I revealed her:

    - you are allowed to add or substract the same number on every side of the equation
    - you are allowed to multiply or divide the equation by the same number on every side

    The girl understood:
    Oh, so you do the contrary on the other side and knew how to find the number fitting into her square.

    I think it’s a bit stupid to deprive the children of usefull tools, just because x “looks so frightening”….

  15. sheldan says:

    Oh, is this right up my alley! I happen to be teaching elementary algebra at a community college here (it’s called developmental studies; students who need help with math before their regular courses or who haven’t been in a math classroom in years are the students I have). Interestingly enough, I taught word problems some weeks ago, and unfortunately, some of them don’t get it either…

    Some observations:

    Rafi is exactly right about how to solve this problem. There are two unknowns (Team A and Team B’s scores) and one (Team A’s score) is given in terms of the other (Team B’s score). Since, when we know Team B’s score we will have Team A’s score, we let the variable (x) represent Team B’s score, and since Team A scored 7 less, we represent Team A’s score as
    x – 7 (7 less than a number implies x – 7, not 7 – x).

    It was really strange that a baseball score was not a whole number, as Rafi pointed out. Someone should have edited the problem.

    Vicki, I really can relate to students like you; so many people tell me about how they had problems in math. I think that the most rewarding thing about my profession is that I can make it understandable for people.

    Rafi and Batya from NJ, I would agree with both of you that while some people do excel in one subject over another, it’s important not to perpetuate the prejudice that girls “just can’t do math.”

    Suburban Sweetheart, ditto comment for Vicki…

    Jack, exactly…

    LLL, I think it’s amazing that they are teaching this to third graders. I don’t think I remember doing this in third grade. I took algebra in eighth grade; that was considered accelerated in those days…

    Kathy, that is commonly called “guess and check.” And I can sympathize with your “frustrated student” comment.

    Rafi, I think years ago in elementary school, the variables were indeed replaced by shapes where one had to find the number in the shape that would make the statement true…

    Hadassah, I hope I haven’t been too long-winded here, but I find it very interesting when math comes into play. I wouldn’t be too discouraged if you have trouble helping your son. There are a number of books on the market that deal with making math easier (if you are interested); if you search at Amazon (algebra, basic math, etc.), you may find one that might help you understand what he’s going through. Then again, maybe it was that math teacher who turned you against math entirely… There’s no call for that, in my opinion. Math has a bad enough reputation without teachers making it worse.

    • tina says:

      I think the problem is that no-one teaches how to translate word problems into mathematical language.

      This is an important step, and it is not given enough attention.

      It could well be that Hadassah’s perceived inability in math is just about this: translating into mathematical language.

      • sheldan says:

        Tina, you should visit my elementary algebra class sometime…I spend a couple of classes on just that topic. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve had as much success at this as I would like.

  16. Mike S. says:

    Rafi said: “The problem is: you cannot easily calculate with an empty square.”

    Nonsense! you can manipulate an equation with an empty square representing a variable exactly the same way you can with an ‘x’ representing a variable. Or a pink elephant or any other symbol you care to use. You can even solve quadratic equations with empty square for a variable, or do trig identities with an empty square, or solve partial differential equations with an elephant and a donkey as the independent variables and an icon of the capitol building representing the unknown function.

  17. Rafi says:

    Yes you are right. But I think the children are not told that, because the empty square represents a figure, they can calculate with it as if it were a figure. So they do not do it.

    That’s why I think that this didactic approach is wrong. It might even be that many children get lost at this stage, then they think they are bad at math, and once the easy stuff with the x equations is explained, they do not listen any more, because they are already convinced they are bad at math.

    • Again, I agree with Rafi – in First Grade, I was the only kid who could read fluently, but I missed 29 of 30 problems on my “Reading Readiness Test.” WHY? Because the title was “Reading Readiness Test” (which I could READ) and the problems had no words. It was a pattern-matching test. Each problem had a series of shapes: square circle square circle square [fill in the blank]. I was lost. Completely and hopelessly LOST. Because no one ever explained what the hell squares, circles, and triangles had to do with WORDS. I didn’t fully understand the relevance of this until I was a teen (and learned it because I flunked a Spanish assignment – by refusing to do it – it was a word-search puzzle and I thought it was “busy work” – when of course it was simple pattern matching and wasn’t teaching me anything at all about Spanish). If the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together, it doesn’t really matter how smart the child is – they’re left scratching their heads and wasting mental clock time trying to figure out WHY they’re being asked to do something that makes no sense at all to them.

Leave A Reply