For many American students, studying math is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, so much so that in recent polls 68-percent of children say that they hate math with a passion.

But it doesn’t have to be that way says Professor Mahesh Sharma of Mathematics for All, who has been working with the Laconia School District for the last two years to design strategies to improve the mathematics curriculum and instruction at all levels.

He told a group of parents and students at the Laconia Middle School Thursday night that math is a unique subject in that unlike reading, where once the fundamentals are mastered self-learning is possible, math requires someone to help students learn every time a new number system, such as division and fractions is introduced.

Sharma, a native of India, says that in 43 years in America he has yet to meet a teacher whose class completed the entire yearly grade level math curriculum.

And that’s due to a many factors, the most important of which may be that in any given class 28-percent of the students are at least two years behind the level they are expected to have reached.

The teachers have to do a lot of pickup throughout the year because the fundamentals haven’t been mastered. And unless they are, students won’t be able to deal with more complex math. They may master procedure, but without understanding concepts they’ll have trouble with Algebra and have reached a plateau they can’t get beyond,’’ says Sharma.

He says that even parents who feel they have limited math skills can still help their children by playing with them with games and toys that help their children develop the so-called anchoring skills which he says are best acquired in non-mathematical settings and are crucial to mathematical learning.

“Games involving playing cards, dominoes and dice bring all these skills together,’’ says Sharma, who says that board games are also of great value to educators as an effective way of engaging students.

Using games facilitates a great learning atmosphere because students just think they’re having fun,” says Sharma, who says that the third grade is a critical age for most students when it comes to math.

He says that commercially available games like Master Mind are an excellent means of developing pattern recognition, visual memory and deductive thinking for children.  Others like Simon, Mini Wizard and Battleship are also very useful.

Old-fashioned board games like checkers, Parcheesi, Chinese checkers, card games and dominos are also good teaching devices.

While these games are highly motivational and can break classroom routines Sharma says they shouldn’t be used simply to occupy children’s time but should be goal oriented for skill development.

Lauren Streifer, academic coordinator at Laconia High School, says that the skill building techniques Sharma has been bringing to the school district have already had an impact in the classroom.

He spent several days in the schools this week and will return again in February and April for similar efforts. He is the founder and president of the Center for Teaching/Learning of Mathematics of Wellesley and Framingham, Mass., and the former president and professor of mathematics education at Cambridge College in Cambridge, Mass.

CAPTION: Professor Mahesh Sharma of Mathematics for All, a consultant working with the Laconia School District, is shown with Madison Brooks, 8, and Kaitlyn Brooks, 10, following a presentation he gave at Laconia Middle School Thursday night in which he said that games are an important tool for learning math skills at an early age.

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Source: The Laconia Daily Sun –