4th & 5th Grade Math: 5 Things My Kids ALWAYS Struggle to Master

Today's post is fairly simple, yet is written for a few very specific reasons. 
1. To let you know that you are not alone! There will be days where you are seriously wondering if you should even be allowed to teach anymore. Or at least, I know I've been there! I've thought to myself, on many occasions, "Goodness gracious, Amanda! Why can't you teach kids to divide?!" Please know, you are not alone. So many kids in these upper elementary years seem to struggle with the concepts in this blog post.

2. To tell you that you NEED to plan accordingly for this. I spiral these skills so much that I seriously feel like my kids are thinking, "Seriously?! This again?" But what do you know, we dive into it for the fourth time this school year, and they still struggle...maybe a bit less, but struggle nonetheless.

3. To help you find some fun and engaging products to help you practice these challenging skills! We all know that if we are going to repeatedly practice something, we need task cards, centers, printables, and gobs of other things to help make the practice a little less painful and a little more FUN! 

Subtraction with Regrouping

They should know this, right? Ooooh, but they don't! See, in upper grades, we often blame the younger grades. Why didn't they teach this? HOW did they teach this? Why can't these kids come to me knowing how to subtract?! In my honest opinion, I think there are several reasons. I think that the largest problem is that students often struggle to understand place value concepts. How can they remember to borrow, if they don't understand the reasoning behind it. I also believe that many of our kids lack the organization and handwriting skills to properly complete a complex problem from start to finish. Have you ever tried to find a student's error by checking their work only to get lost in their messy handwriting and numbers that are crossed out here and there? If you, a college educated teacher with years of experience cannot figure out their error, how will they?

Try using graph paper or lined paper turned sideways to help students organize their work. I'll also tell you (because I've screwed this up myself) that you'll need to model and train them to use the graph or lined paper. Otherwise, do you know what happens? They just slop down anything and everything onto that paper as they've done for years. 


Dear God, I dread division. Anyone else? We teach them acronyms, like DMSB, to help them remember what to do. They can do it when walking through examples in a small group or individually. Then you ask them to do it independently, and for goodness sakes, they lose it. Suddenly, they can't remember if 4 will go into 16. Suddenly, they can't subtract 15-8. They simply lose it.

My advice to you is to step back and watch them solve the problem without butting in. Typically, students are struggling for one of the above reasons; lack of math fact memorization or subtraction. Watch them solve the problem and see what they do without your support or guidance. Then, help them address the root of the problem. Make them conscious of their pattern of errors. I often train my students to know what their common mistake is. It helps them check their work in a better, more meaningful way. 

Reducing Fractions

Is it really important, they say? Haha! Yes, it is THAT important. In my honest opinion, seeing connections between numbers is a huge problem for many of my students. When they see 2/6, they aren't noticing that 2 x 3 = 6 or that both numbers are even.

I suggest playing games, writing out even and odd numbers, and finding creative ways to memorize math facts to help your students conquer this problem. Give them rules or questions to ask themselves when reducing, like "Ask yourself, are both numbers even?" If so, you can divide by 2. Teach them other divisibility rules. We all know that numbers divisible by three are going to catch those kids all. the. time. Be prepared and do what you can to sprinkle in this type of practice as often as possible. You can download this interactive notebook freebie by clicking here! 

Decimals Ending in Zero

Does the zero stay or do you forget it? In my classroom, we talk a lot about "perfect answers" and "ok answers". An ok answer would be 0.20, but a PERFECT answer is 0.2. I often teach my students this concept using models to show that they are equivalent. We also use these terms repeatedly, so after a long while, my students are catching themselves giving "ok answers" and quickly fix it. I also like that they learn that their answer isn't incorrect, there is just something better that shows we fully understand how numbers work. 

Area & Perimeter

Is there a difference? Do I have to remember which is which?! Yes, my dear students, you have to remember them. I honestly think that many students don't remember the difference, because they haven't had many real-life opportunities to experience them. For example, if they ONLY are able to work out problems in their math book or worksheet, they aren't ever going to be able to experience taking the wrong measurement and ordering too much or too little carpet for your living room. Give them opportunities to practice both on paper and in real life (or as close to real life) scenarios as possible! 

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with everything you said. Do you have any resource suggestions that you could share to help spiral these skills?