The Perfect Maths Textbook.

MATHS INSIDERS blog (7)

Yet more books!

Today I was glancing through my overstocked bookshelf, mentally planning what books to buy for my kids and I, when we go to London for a few weeks in the summer. The choice of books in London bookshops is much broader than the choice of books here in the Middle East, especially when it comes to books that parents can use to help their children with school subjects.

The problem

Even when shopping for books in London or even on Amazon, it can be too easy to become obsessed with finding the “perfect” maths textbook. The problem with most maths textbooks, if I may put on my Dr Seuss hat, can be summarised as; too boring, too pricey, too big, too small, too detailed, too brief, not what I need at all!

The solution?

This got me thinking about the many people who have asked me about which maths textbooks to buy, to help their kids with maths. I usually give people suggestions based on books I’ve used or books that I’ve flicked through that seem good, but what can you do if you can’t get hold of them or if my suggested maths textbooks aren’t suitable for your child?

Use any ol’ maths textbook

But how?

In most situations you’re looking to tutor your child because; a) they’ve done the work at school but didn’t understand it fully; b) they’re bright and you want them to try new/harder work;

Get them to have a look at the example and try the first question.

If they’re student (a) they’ll have met the topic before, so even if they’re lacking in confidence because they didn’t understand it first time round, at least it won’t be completely new. If they’re student b) then in most cases they’ll cope easily with this type of self study exercise. 90% of standard maths textbooks are set up the same way, with an example at the top, then anything from a few to a few gazillion questions to make sure the work is understood, boring, but it works and remember practice makes perfect!

Some kids are going to say “I don’t get it!”

If that’s the case, sit down with them and read through the examples together , that should calm most kids. Go over the example several times if need be. The last resort is to show them how to do the first question. If this is the case, show them 5 times if you need to, but be patient. Finally, insist they have a go at the next 2 questions or so, then show you when they’ve finished them.

Of course there are some prerequisites here:
You need to have read through the examples yourself and be able to understand them – after all you’re going to ask your child to do the questions:)

Get them to answer the first few, the last few and a few in the middle, I suggest you stop after 20 minutes total (it’s not like you’re paying $40 per hour and need to get full use of the time!) If there are problems, take a break, and just pick them up next session, tomorrow is another day, and sometimes students panic when faced with difficult work. These things sometimes need time to filter into the brain. What has been your experience of using any ol’ textbook with your child?

Caroline Mukisa
About The Author: Caroline Mukisa is the founder of Maths Insider. A Cambridge University educated math teacher, she's been involved in math education for over 20 years as a teacher, tutor, Kumon instructor, Thinkster Math instructor and math ed blogger. She is the author of the insanely helpful ebook "The Ultimate Kumon Review" and insanely useful website "31 Days to Faster Times Tables" You can follow her math tips on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @mathsinsider

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2 thoughts on “The Perfect Maths Textbook.

  1. You totally got me. I saw the title and thought — she found it! At last! The perfect math book! :)

    I think it’s quite empowering to people to share this info that actually, they can use any book at all, instead of beating themselves up over finding the ‘perfect’ one. But in my years of math tutoring I have seen some real stinkers–and also some books that are good in some areas but lacking in others.

    I know you are into recipes (esp for chocolate muffins) so maybe a recipe analogy is apt here. When I’m trying a new dish, I’ll frequently look at several different recipes from different cookbooks. (do I want to make a clafouti that will use up my leftover ricotta… or one that carmelizes the cherries first?)

    Likewise I find it useful to have a few math books on hand. One might be great for concepts but I’ll turn to another one for extra practice. That kind of thing. Same idea, just not getting hung up on finding the “perfect” curriculum.

    PS. I really enjoy your blog! Your energy and enthusiasm come through so clearly. And there is definitely a need for information for parents who want to help their kids with math homework — good job on filling that need! :)

    • Thanks for your kind comments about Maths Insider and your recipe analogy. You are so right about taking the idea of the post further by selecting a few imperfect textbooks and choosing the best ingredients from each to produce something suitable for your child. I know that for myself, I find looking for an English textbook for my kids slightly stressful; all that choice; each one saying in different ways what they cover and trying to work out which would suit each child’s learning style, so I can see how your analogy can make such choices easier! Thanks for sharing!