Educational Care: Actively Addressing Math Problems


In math, the child or teen with executive skill challenges may struggle with specific skills.

  • Automatic fact recall.

  • Inconsistent application of multiple step math procedures for regrouping (carrying and borrowing)

  • Inconsistent problem solving

  • Trouble completing all steps in multiple step word problems

  • Inconsistent reasoning with time and money

  • Trouble recalling procedures for higher level math such as algebra and calculus.

Consider these research-based strategies for scaffolding math procedures

Use hands-on materials to provide visual confirmation of math concepts and procedures.  Use paper clips, buttons, or base ten blocks to form groupings for to teach procedures.  When needed, have your child practice the concept of fractions by using “fraction wheels” and other tools.  As she develops these skills you can start to phase-out the hands-on materials.

Help your child develop his or her ability to quickly recall math facts and procedures.   This can be done by teaching mnemonics to help her remember the steps in a specific procedure.  For example, the steps in division are:

  • Divide

  • Multiply

  • Subtract

  • Check

  • Bring down

Many students remember this sequence of steps using this mnemonic:

  • Does

  • McDonald’s

  • Sell

  • Cheese

  • Burgers

Others may need to draw a picture or use a math procedures cue card as they are learning math procedures.  Others may be helped by using games that drill mathematics facts until they become automatic.

Consider these research-based strategies for structuring math word problems.

Teach your child to look for “clue” or “key” words in word problems that indicate the mathematical operation to be performed.  For example, many children need to be taught that “altogether” means to add and “difference” means to subtract.  Discuss words or phrases that usually indicate addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division operations.

Assist your child in developing the math language needed to properly solve mathematics word problems. Ask teachers to allow your child to develop a math dictionary to assist with math word problems.

Use concrete objects that represent the numerical amounts presented in the word problem.  For example, an appropriate amount of money can be used to demonstrate word problems involving money.  Have the student manipulate objects while stating the processes used.

Teach your child the steps that are required to solve math word problems using the acronym STAR:

  • Search the word problem.

  • Translate the words into an equation in picture form.

  • Answer the problem.

  • Review the solution.

Make certain your child reads through the entire word problem before attempting to solve it.  Teach her to ask, “What information was given?”, “What information is not needed?”, “What is asked?”  Teach him or her how to mark this information on word problems and write out a number sentence based on the math word problem.

Consider allowing your child the flexibility of accommodations

Request reasonable age-appropriate classroom accommodations to reduce the frustrations your child experiences due to weak math skills. Accommodating involves adjusting for areas of known weaknesses in math procedures without “watering down” the math concept.  Accommodations might include:

  • Ask educators to allow your child additional time on math tests or other math assignments that are to be completed quickly.

  • Ask if your child can use a “cue-card” in order to learn multiple step math procedures quicker without interference from weak sustained attention and working memory.

  • Ask if your child can use a math procedures reference sheet, like the “Spark-Charts” sold at Barnes and Noble to refer to as he or she is developing a specific skill.

  • Ask for your child to use of reference materials such as a math dictionary.

  • Similarly, some students may be helped by using a self-monitoring checklist to check work for common errors before turning it in.

  • Request use of calculators when the task involves practicing a math reasoning concept (not computations).

Need additional suggestions?

Contact us at 817.421.8780 to schedule an educational consultation. 

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(c) 2010, Monte W. Davenport, Ph.D.

Photo courtesy of Microsoft.