for parents/teachers: how is 5th grade math usually taught?

In December, I unexpectedly became an insta-parent when my 10-year-old stepdaughter moved in with us.

Of course, I’m now experiencing one of the most painful parts of parenting: correcting my child’s homework and explaining to her the concepts she doesn’t get.

I am most puzzled by her math class. I always thought that math was taught in some sort of logical progression and recall from my days in 5th grade (just over 20 years ago) that we spent ages learning a particular concept and practicing it.

However, her homework seems to have no rhyme or reason. In the time she’s been in school here (about a month and half), her math assignments have covered: fractions (adding/multiplying), probability, stem-and-leaf diagrams, bar graphs, rounding decimals, area and perimeter of shapes, etc.

I know they are coming up to standardized testing soon. Is this some attempt to cram in anything that could possibly be on the test? Some new teaching technique? Anyone else have the experience of math being taught this way?

What is the name of the textbook she’s using? There are several math programs out there now that use a “spiral” method, which means that they circle around the topics. Like, you might have the first lesson on fractions one day, practice that material in homework every day for a week, and then have the next step a week later. Some math programs do that well, others do not.

You might google the name of her textbook and see what is out there about it. Beware, for that might land you in the middle of the “math wars.”

In order to help her with her homework, I would first try to see how well she knows basic material. If she needs to play catch-up in the basics, you’ll have to do that first. If she’s fine, then you can just help her understand whatever is going on that day. You might introduce yourself to the teacher and ask what you should do if you’re stumped–who should you call?

It is cramming season at our elementary school. If you are in the US, go to the State Department of Education website and see what the Standards of Learning* are for 5th graders. You can also see sample tests from prior years for the various subjects.

There probably is a lot of jumping around right now if the test dates are close.
*may have another name

My kids get spiral math. The idea here is that you get introduced to a concept, then it gets slowly reinforced and built on. They also introduced the idea of algebra - even multi variable algebra - very early. They aren’t supposed to gain mastery with first exposure, but each subsequent exposure is supposed to make them more confident (“oh, I remember this!”)

A did a lot of tutoring in recent years (of all ages), and I was upset to find some of my kids (esp. high school) being given a buckshot approach to teaching math rather than a logical progression. It does seem driven by the fact they teach to the tests, and not to learn. In my neck of the woods, all math classes (within the grade) take the same math test - whether the teacher has covered the material or not. I think this has been driven by the unions to simply things for the teacher. Regardless, teaching to the test is NOT teaching for life.

I should add that the illogical approach to math DOES NOT help the students AT ALL! In fact, it only serves to propagate the confusion and misconceptions kids develop about math.

She’s 10? Promise her a pony if she does well in school.


Not sure whether it’s spiral math or not as I couldn’t find out much about the textbook (Glencoe Applications & Concepts). It doesn’t seem like spiral math as the “building on concepts” part appears to be lacking.

We are in Maryland so have MSAs (rather than SOLs, which I think are Virginia only).

Her math/science teacher is a twit, unfortunately. We met with all her teachers midway through January because the math/science one decided it was a grand idea to make the child do a science fair project (in two weeks) that the other students had had three months to work on. She also has yet to send home a graded piece of homework, quizzes, anything.

They seriously call the tests SOLs in Virginia? snerk giggle

No advice here but that caught my eye.

My daughter is in fifth grade and there is a clear progression in her school math (today’s homework was dividing mixed numbers and a bit of algebra relating to that) but there is some spiral review in each homework assignment (today’s was finding the mean (which was from a section a few months ago).

When I say there’s a clear progression, she has very obviously moved from decimals, fractions, converting between the two, adding fractions, subtracting fractions, adding and subtracting mixed numbers, multiplying fractions and mixed numbers, etc.

However, her school is a big supporter of Aleks, which a work-at-home (and alone, you are not supposed to help at all) online math program, designed to let the kids progress at their own pace. It is very spirally. The kids are supposed to do 75 minutes online per week and while my daughter professes to positively hate it, she’s burning through the lessons and I know she’s doing stuff I didn’t learn until 6th or 7th grade. I sit with her frequently while she does it, just because it helps me help her with her real homework and I think it’s a great resource. You can check it out here:

Well, I’d advise you to be very active in helping her. If the school isn’t doing it, you’ll have to. You might like to try looking at Glencoe’s page of resourcesfor parents; perhaps something there will help?

Don’t give up on this.

This is our system as well. We have two fifth graders, and one of them adores math. The other one… well, I’m happy when he brings home a D, although he has moments of brilliance in the subject.