This year I’m teaching two classes of Year 7s at a school in Perth. After week one I am both pleased at their effort and willingness to work hard and at the good response from parents to do what they can at home to help support their children’s progress.

It’s a tough time for these new high school students. In Western Australia it won’t be until 2015 that Year 7s start high school in the government system, so this makes it even more daunting for private school kids. The Year 7s in my classes have come from a variety of backgrounds, and varying backgrounds of mathematical ability.

Year 7 is also a NAPLAN year so teachers are keen to get as many kids up to speed as they can so that they’ll be prepared for the numeracy questions they see in May. I know that while we’re covering a variety of topics in Term 1, part of the strategy is to teach topics that will help kids feel better prepared for NAPLAN.

Over the next few months I’ll write a few posts on some areas you can focus on with your child to help them not only get up to speed, but also stand out in their mathematical ability. These content areas aren’t complex algebra topics or difficult areas of geometry, but rather easy to tackle areas that will pay off some big dividends in your child’s confidence and skill at school.

The first I’d like to focus on today is working with your child on Word Problems.

So far in class I’ve been revising a range of calculation skills with my Year 7 students and so far they’re all doing well with these skills. But when I throw in a few word problems for them to try, hands go up left and right as they struggle to decipher what they should do with the numbers they see. This is not only key to mathematics and life in general, but is also a big part of what is being tested in NAPLAN.

Here’s a great opportunity for you to work with your child at home to help them develop these skills, and I even have some free resources to help you get started.

So how can you approach this?

1)    Imagine the scene

Get your child to imagine the scenario present in the word problem. Talk about it with them and help them set the scene so that they can get a grasp of what is going on.

2)    Highlight relevant figures

Many word problems have extraneous information and it’s important that kids can determine which figures are important to their calculations. Actively read and underline or highlight which numbers will help solve the problem.

3)    Choose the right operation

Many kids feel paralysed by word questions because there’s no indication of what sort of calculation or calculations they should do. When they realise that there’s really only four to choose from – addition, subtraction, multiplication or division – they feel more confident in choosing one. After a while, kids only tend to get confused with multiplication and division, and even then with practice they improve greatly. Discuss with your child their choice and help them with their reasoning. If they insist it’s multiplication, when it should be division, do the calculations with them and then discuss whether their answer makes any sense.

4)    Check if your answer makes sense

The students with the most potential in mathematics are those that are always thinking about their solutions and wondering if they make sense in the context. Students who can pick that their answer doesn’t seem quite right, can adjust their calculations on their own and experience far better success in their learning and assessment results.

A great and simple resource I’ve found to help you get started are these free printable worksheets from Dad’s Worksheets. They cover each of the four operations with plenty of mixed questions to try. Set aside some time each week or on the weekend to work through one or two of these sheets and you’ll be helping your child think mathematically in no time.