Helping Students with Dyscalculia Thrive As Mathematicians

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that mirrors dyslexia. Students with dyscalculia struggle to learn basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems via rote memory and traditional teaching methods. Dyscalculia does not mean “dumb at math”.  In fact, I am thinking of one recent student who now enjoys math and consistently earns A’s.

What can help these students make the big leap?

One solution is to teach elementary math equations with narrative and visual aids. To do this, develop a cartoon character with a unique personality for each number, 1 through 10, then develop stories for each of the challenging equations. Make sure that each number’s personality remains consistent  throughout the  equation stories.  Simplify each written story into an illustrated story picture on an index card.  Create a deck and use these with your student. Watch how quickly they learn the troublesome equations and speed up their answer time.


Explore one of the Math The Fun Way kits at .

City Creek is an excellent vendor of math education tools made fun!

If you have questions or comments, please email me to let me know how useful or educational this blog was for you and your family.  Happy Holidays!


Memory Workshop for Homeschool Parents

Several weeks ago I led a workshop for homeschool parents of students with learning challenges. I focused on creative approaches to memory, including the use of stories to cement facts to long-term memory. I shared an example from Josh Foer’s book, Moonwalking with Einstein, in which he uses a story to remember a name – Edward Bedford. Here’s the story.
Edward is standing on a mattress, paddling like crazy with a paddle in order to ford across the river. He’s motivated to paddle quickly because, well, he’s on a mattress, which is not such a great floatation device. To make matters worse Edward Scissorhand is standing beside him slashing away at the mattress. Cotton ticking flies into the air then falls like snow into the water.
Why it works: The story is unique, and extraordinary. Important story elements are logically linked to the first and last name. Not everything about the story need be logical, just the links to the subject.
I had assigned each workshop participant to bring in a name they wanted to remember. After hearing the story of Edward Bedford, they proceeded to create their own stories. It worked quickly and very effectively.
This is a great memory strategy for anyone who is trying to add tools to their study skills tool kit.
Try it out with your family as a family game. With practice you will find that you can create quick stories for all sorts of information.

Motivational Theory For Our Brain

It appears to be generally accepted that as infants, we absorb vast amounts of stimuli and information, with our brains far more active than they are as adults. Furthermore, it is a common belief that as we grow up our brains begin to edit our perceptual experiences. This appears to be associated with the development of individual identity and the need to concentrate on prioritized tasks. Without this eliminative ability, we would all be overwhelmed by our daily experiences.

Let us assume that the ability to absorb all personal experience and remember it remains with us, but that the brain’s task of editing continues as well. How could a belief in such juxtaposed and fantastic theories help us as lifelong learners?

If we believe that people can absorb all experience and remember it, then we may form a stronger belief in our personal ability to grow in this direction. If we also believe that our brains have worked most of our lives to narrow our awareness and memory – largely for our own sanity – then we may develop an even stronger inspiration for personal growth.

Essentially, instead of asking ourselves, “what mental workout must I do to improve my ability to take in and remember more information?” we now ask, “how do I get my brain editor to relax, so that I may take in more information and remember it?” This question may be much more inviting than one which requires a belief in mental weight-lifting in order to achieve the same goal.

Let me know what you think. Share your own theories.

Family with Troubled Teen

This week’s blog is for teenagers in trouble with the law and for their parents. Perhaps your trouble started with skipping classes, or even whole days of school, perhaps you found yourself using drugs frequently, perhaps you liked to set things on fire or steal from stores, family and friends. Whatever led you into trouble probably also meant that your grades plummeted and you faced academic discipline of some sort, even suspension or expulsion.

There are a number of therapeutic, non-traditional programs that provide excellent help in these situations. The programs are called wilderness treatment schools.  Students heal self-esteem and develop self-confidence through wilderness therapy which includes wilderness education and completion of adventure-oriented challenges.

Although these programs tend to be pricey, they are very very effective. I know of three families who proclaim that their son or daughter made a radical turn-around as a result of a wilderness treatment school.

You can find a comprehensive list of programs across the country at .   The program I have heard most recent praise from is Second Nature .

Please write back to me to share your questions and  comments!

Day-Dreaming versus Concentrated Thought

Americans prize the ability to concentrate. Our concerns about attention-deficits and the popularity of cafes and decaffeinated drinks attest to this value. What would you think of studies that suggest the opposite ability is vital as well?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, a number of studies indicate that unharnessed thought, such as day-dreaming, is linked to more creative thinking and formulation of new ideas. Some of the recent research was conducted by Dr. Holly White – then of the University of Memphis – and Priti Shah of the University of Michigan.

Interested in learning more about this fascinating subject? Read the article at: .

Also take a look at “ADD’s New Upside Is Creativity” in the Daily Beast. This article also explores Shah and White’s research of the connection between creativity and ADD/ADHD.

Polite Subtraction

Here is a nifty trick for speeding up subtraction of large numbers, generally three digit numbers or a combination of three-digit and two-digit numbers.

For example, to subtract 64 from 260, many of us would scribble on paper or grab a calculator. If the number was 60, many of us would do the equation in our heads, but that 4 takes a little extra effort.

Try this helpful strategy.   Round 64 up to100, then subtract 100 from 260.

260 – 100 = 160.

Now add the difference between 100 and 64. Let’s see, 100-64 = 36, so 36 is the difference. Then add 160 + 36, which equals 196.

“But that was more difficult than just writing it our or using a computer!” you might say.

Hold on. This is the fun part. What seems difficult becomes quick and easy if we use complements. (Yes, be nice to your math and it will be nice to you.)

Look below at the numbers subtracted from 100 and the answers. See a pattern?

100 100 100 100

-81   -68   -33  -24

19    32     67   76

Each of the numbers in the in the ones columns add up to 10. Each of the numbers in the tens columns add up to 9, always.

Oh, that is not exactly true, but the only exceptions are equations that end in zeros, such as 90 – 10 =80, which most of us can do anyway.

Now that you understand complements, try them out with these problems. Check them against a calculator or on paper. Does the method work?

245      416     759

-78       -29      -82

(Let’s do the first one together. Round 78 up to 100. 245 – 100 = 145. The complement of 78 is 22. 145 + 22 = 167)

You can make this even simpler by adding left to right = 145 + 20 = 165, 165 + 2 = 167.

Try these out, then write your own and try to do them in your head. Before long you will be as fast as your calculator!