“Math is just another name for making something simple sound really, really complicated,” my child said, adding, “Why do they have to take something so easy, and make it sound so hard?” His statement gave me pause. Remembering my own struggles with astronomy and physics, two things I could never particularly “get”, I knew exactly what he meant.
His statement came after I explained a mathematical concept he hadn’t been able to grasp by reading the book alone. I had showed him a way to solve the problem in fewer steps, steps that made a lot more sense to him. I had also re-framed the concept into something he already understood, turning an abstract idea into something real to him. Luckily, mathematical concepts come easy to me. Though I’m not always able to do this for every subject they learn, thankfully I have been able to get all of my kids through their occasional math challenges drawing on my background and my own brain-power alone. So, I drew upon my skill and got him through it. He learned. And I did, too. Again.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…as long as I homeschool my kids, I realize something new about them, and about learning in general, every single day. What I was reminded that day was the importance of re-framing certain ideas into something real for certain children. Undoubtedly, not every child is going to need this. But some do. My kid did. And this is very important to recognize, because by adding the technique to one’s homeschooling toolbox, it may just come in handy at times.
What do I mean by re-framing? Re-framing is looking at an idea in a different way. Imagine removing a painting from its frame. Now imagine removing an idea from its context…
Remember word problems? These are problems, math problems for instance, that are supposed to sound like real-world problems, requiring children to read through a story and decide upon what to do. Word problems ask kids to figure out what kind of math is needed amidst a whole bunch of other information that may or may not even be relevant to the problem.
Re-framing a word problem in math might involve coming up with a different problem that asks the very same thing. It might mean assigning the problem as a math sentence or algebraic equation instead, without any of the words at all. Or it might mean using other math techniques that have already been mastered and solving it a different way, too. Maybe even an easier way. Whatever works for that child.
So, re-framing is removing the question or problem from its context and putting it into a different context, or looking at it from a new perspective, or substituting some of the facts for something kids already understand.
In mathematics, a couple of examples of re-framing might be:
1. When teaching percentages greater than 100 (e.g., 110% or 160%) use sales tax as an example. Most children understand making purchases and having to add sales tax. Instead of problems involving some parts greater than a whole (abstract), ask kids to calculate the total purchase price of something they like (i.e., a video game or pair of boots) instead. Teach that calculating sales tax (the part greater than the whole isn’t enough. Reinforce that sales tax must be added to the retail price of the item (the 100% part) in order to arrive at the total cost.
2. When teaching simple statistics, re-frame problems into real-life things kids can relate to. Instead of looking at coffee-growing or population increases (which do not directly apply to them), ask students to analyze things they know — like allowance received, number of levels beaten in a game, monthly cell phone minutes used, and so on. Ideas like Mean, Median and Mode become very real when involving scenarios they understand. Conjuring up word problems using these ideas can translate into solving the problems in the book much easier later on.
3. When learning the difference between Area and Perimeter, come up with stories illustrating the difference. In our home, I always used examples involving our dogs (digging up every square foot of the yard, or running along the length of the fence). Use any examples that might make sense to your children. Re-frame the problems using different words, different examples, or using some technique they already understand (linear feet measurements, how tall they are, stacking square cubes in a box, or whatever it may be).
Re-framing idea applies to other subjects, too. In writing for example, re-frame ideas so that students can relate. Not every child may understand the purpose of writing a Persuasive Essay. But most will be able to relate to writing an essay in which he or she tries to convince you of something (a later bedtime, decrease in chores, extra cell phone minutes, or having to complete fewer math problems!) or argue their point of view (think teens here). Relating scientific concepts like acids and bases or certain chemical reactions can be re-framed into examples involving baking or cooking, hair coloring, or anything else your kids will understand.
With re-framing, try everything. Be creative. Try different approaches. Think out of the box. Blurt out anything, even if you think it may sound silly or dumb. You never know what your child might pick up on. Ask your spouse or other children, too. Sometimes other people have a unique way of looking at things that can help someone else. Somehow, something will eventually work. Notice when your child’s eyes light up and finally “gets it”. You may be surprised at what it took to convey an idea (and remember what you did for next time)!
The lesson I learned with my child that day was to remember to re-frame mathematical concepts when he needs me to. What you can take away from this story is that re-framing can be useful in many areas of homeschool — and in life, too, by the way. Most parents already know how to do this. How often have you asked your child to pick dirty laundry off the floor or eat his fruits and vegetables? How have you been able to convincingly explain the importance of doing these things? Applying the sames kinds of thinking and logic can help to re-frame school concepts, too. Looking at problems differently – re-framing them in terms kids understand – can work as well in school as it does in life. Every student can understand if something is explained correctly. By re-framing problems, you can help get your child through trouble spots this way.
[Image: Free Digital]