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In this article I discuss some general principles in helping students that are behind in math.

  1. Test and assess
  2. Make a list of topics to study
  3. Perhaps go back to the very beginning?
  4. Restudying some topics while using a math curriculum
  5. The order of topics
  6. Should you go on with new concepts or not?
  7. A suggestion for review worktexts

How to Help a Student Who is Behind in Math?

1. Test and assess

Image by www.flickr.com/photos/sveinhal/

If you are teaching a student who struggles in math, you probably already have an idea which math topics are difficult for him or her, but knowing for sure is much better than guesswork. By testing you can be sure to find all the weak areas. This is important because mathematics builds upon earlier concepts.

You can download ready-made assessment tests from a variety of sources:

Please note you're not using the tests to necessarily find out what grade level the student is in (though you can), but to pinpoint the exact areas of math that he or she needs help with. So look at the test results closely, question by question.

To find out exactly what the student does not understand, administer several tests from neighboring grade levels, or ask the student to complete problems on certain topics only in the lower level tests. Stress to the student that the test is for evaluation purposes, not for giving grades.

2. Make a list of topics

book covers

Once you know the topics where the student struggles, make a list of them. If there are only a few, then it is fairly easy to fill in the gaps: simply use Math Mammoth Blue Series books to address those areas.

The Blue Series books are worktexts, which means that they contain both the explanations (the "text") and the problems (the "work"). Each book deals with one area of math, such as place value, addition & subtraction, multiplication tables, multi-digit multiplication, long division, measuring, clock, money, geometry, fractions, decimals, proportions, percent, integers, equations, geometry, statistics, and so on. In other words, the books are topical. They cover all the math topics in grades 1-8. See a full list of the books and the topics here.

The Blue Series books are sold as downloads with very affordable prices, and they are also available as printed copies. Download lots of free samples from these links, and see for yourself!



3. Perhaps go back to the very beginning

The question is more complex if the student is seriously behind. What if your child is in 7th grade but still struggling with 3rd grade topics, such as the multiplication tables?

Here's one possibility. Some of my customers have actually gone back to the very beginning — 1st or 2nd grade math — with Math Mammoth complete curriculum, and had their child work through every grade level systematically, building a very solid foundation.

Typically, an older child can cover many grade levels of elementary math in one year. Don't ask the child to do every problem, but "skim through" the lessons, concentrating on the difficult areas. One idea is to have the child complete the chapter review before studying that particular chapter, in order to discover which lessons from the chapter the child should actually study. I feel this is a good option for many children who are seriously behind.

4. Restudying some topics while using a math curriculum

If you use a regular math curriculum, one way is study a weak area just before the same topic in the child's regular math curriculum. For example, the child could restudy basic division (a 3rd grade topic) just before tackling long division in a 4th grade book. This approach works best if the gaps are not many.

5. The order of topics

I want to point out that if you are planning to have the student review many topics, the sequence of those topics DOES matter. Certain concepts "flow together." For example, the multiplication tables are important to master before studying basic division, factoring, or most operations with fractions.

Here are some examples where you need to study one concept before another:

addition → concept of multiplication

multiplication tables → division facts → divisibility → equivalent fractions, adding unlike fractions, simplifying fractions → factors & factoring

place value → multi-digit addition, subtraction, multiplication, and long division

adding and subtracting like fractions, place value → concept of decimal numbers

decimal place value → decimal addition & subtraction

the concept of decimal numbers and of fractions → percent

the concept of fraction and of ratio → probability

Geometry, measuring, clock, money, and graphs are topics that are usually easy to incorporate into the current course of study.

This scope & sequence chart may also help you.

6. Should you go on with new concepts or not?

This is not a "yay or nay" question. With some children, it's advisable to present some new concepts while reviewing earlier ones. That can keep them motivated and not feel so behind. Obviously you cannot start a study of, say, long division if your student lags behind in the basic multiplication or division facts, but you may be able to "sprinkle in" some place value, geometry, time, money, or measuring. Geometry is an especially good area to use while reviewing old concepts, because it typically does not require many calculations.

In some cases, you may have to go back a lot and spend a significant amount of time relearning "old" topics. However, in that scenario, the "old" topics are actually "new" to the student so shouldn't feel boring to him or her. Just use your judgment.

As you can see, your approach can vary. The important thing is that you first assess the student's knowledge and make some kind of "game plan" so you can feel in control. If you have to change your plan, that's alright — in fact, that is quite normal.

7. Suggestion for review worktexts

Math Mammoth Blue Series worktexts that are an excellent means of reviewing or relearning forgotten topics. (A worktext means that the book contains both explanations (the "text") and problems (the "work) in the same book.)

They deal with a few topics in each book, explaining the concepts and providing varied practice, often with visual models.

The topics covered in the Blue Series range from 1st grade addition to 8th equations, and everything in between: place value, addition & subtraction facts, multiplication tables, multi-digit multiplication, long division, measuring, clock, money, geometry, fractions, decimals, proportions, percent, integers, statistics, and more.

See a full list of topics & books here, with grade-level suggestions for each book.

These books are sold both as digital downloads (very affordable) and as printed copies.

When our second daughter was in the fourth grade, we realized that she was not receiving good math lessons at school. So, I contacted my sister that was homeschooling her kids, and she recommended the Blue Series. We got on board and started from the third grade. We liked the material so much that all of our four kids studied the whole series. We believe that we should give our best for our kids to have all options in their future available, and we understood that if they would fail understanding math in early years, a lot of the options would be out of reach later on.

Now some years later, our oldest daughter is studding Architectural Engineering in the best university in Greece, and our second daughter in studding Aerospace Engineering abroad in a top 10 university in the world. Also, our first son is now preparing to take university entrance exams and he is looking for an engineering subject. The series are amazing, after the first couple of months that we had to "enforce" extracurricular study to our kids, they covered the material by themselves.

Thank you very much
John Vrakas
Great resource for jumping mid-flow into my 6th grader's math learning. Having begun to homeschool her all of a sudden, the Blue Series has been a wonderful way to work on whatever math and whatever level/version of each topic she is most ready for and needing to work through. Through access to the entire second half of the Blue Series, I am confident that I have everything necessary to prepare her to begin Algebra in two to three years. She likes it because we can skip around by topic and level as needed without a pre-determined order to it.
- Christie P., Co-op Member
I just wanted to say thank you. Your products are amazing. I have a very bright 13-year old who also has ASD, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, and executive function deficit. She has always really really struggled in math, and is at about a 5th grade level on a good day. He self-esteem has taken huge hits.

Because it is an important life skill, this summer we have really tried to focus on telling time and counting/understanding money. Your books are the first method that has ever worked for her. The breakdown, explanations, and practice have been just what she needed to finally be able to master these topics. Thank you for creating them and for keeping them so accessible and affordable!

Billi Jo
We are a new homeschooling family and I wasn't sure what type of math program to use with my fourth grader. I'm not a math scholar and was nervous about purchasing a curriculum that would leave me just as confused. So far, my son enjoys it, I can understand it to explain it according to current standards, and the convenience of reaching out to the author is helpful. We will continue to use Math Mammoth (Blue, download) in the future.

Tanya G, Co-op Member
I am utterly thrilled with your resources. They are exactly what I need for my middle school students who have greatly lagging skills. The resources are systematically organized into specific skills to facilitate individualizing student programs, and the lessons are very clearly explained. You focus on what is truly important in a straightforward manner that is readily understandable by students. As well, the resources are not presented in a juvenile manner and are thus usable and approachable to students whose skills are well below grade level. Your resources are the first I have seen to meet all these criteria! I will be using this resource daily going forth from now. And to have Canadian content is a marvelous bonus!

Kind regards,
I am so glad I found Math Mammoth. I chose the Blue Series, which is organized by concept instead of grade level. Being able to easily find and focus in on specific concepts when my children are ready for them, without feeling constrained by grade level, is important to me. Math Mammoth Blue Series provides this flexibility.

I find the way Math Mammoth teaches each concept to be easily accessible. There is enough visual support for my visual learner without the use of wild or distracting graphics such as I've seen in some other programs. The balance of new teaching and review practice seems right on. Math Mammoth Blue Series has made me better able to successfully teach math to my children, and in the process improves my own mathematical thinking. I'm simply thrilled with this program.

- Carly S.
Thank you so very much for your program. My almost 12-year-old daughter was not happy with math and although she is a whiz at memorizing facts, formulas, and algorithms, she had very little understanding of anything from basic place value to when-to-use-what-operation. I tried several different curriculums and none worked until we found Math Mammoth. I started her on the topic books versus grade level so she wouldn't feel badly doing "4th grade work", but after 6 months, she is happily and accurately speeding through the percents, Fractions/Decimals 3, and Ratios and Proportions books. I love that she now understands math, and what's more, that she loves it!

Thank you so much!

Thank you for these excellent resources. I've just come to buy more. The grade 3 review book has allowed to identify gaps I can fill in with the Blue books. My son and I have been struggling to find anything appropriate, affordable and cumulative, so I am very pleased to find these, with British money too!
Zoe Caroll
I purchased the Blue series and could not be more pleased. I am able to fill in gaps or re-enforce concepts where my kids struggle. I highly recommend this product.
- Peggy Dalley


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