## Kiss those Math Headaches GOODBYE!

### How to Remove (“Unpack”) Algebraic Terms from Parentheses

As you’re probably aware, I’m a big believer in using stories to bring math to life. Especially when you’re teaching tricky concepts, using a story can be the “magic switch” that flicks on the light of understanding. Armed with story-based understanding, students can recall how to perform difficult math processes. And since people naturally like stories and tend to recall them, skills based on story-based understanding really stick in the mind. I’ve seen this over and over in my tutoring.

The kind of story I’m talking about uses an extended-metaphor, and this way of teaching  is particularly helpful when you’re teaching algebra. Ask yourself: what would you rather have? Students scratching their heads (or tearing out their hair) to grasp a process taught as a collection of abstract steps? Or students grasping  a story and quickly seeing how it guides them in doing the math? I think the answer is probably pretty clear. So with this benefit in mind, let’s explore another story that teaches a critical algebraic skill: the skill of  “unpacking” terms locked inside parentheses.

To get the picture, first imagine that each set of parentheses, weirdly or not, represents a corrugated cardboard box, the kind that moving companies use to pack up your possessions. Extending this concept, the terms inside parentheses represent the items you pack when you move your goodies from one house to another.  Finally, for every set of parentheses (the box), imagine that you’ve hired either a good moving company or a bad moving company. (You can use a good company for one box and a bad company for a different “box” — it changes.) How can you tell whether the moving company is good or bad? Just look at the sign to the left of the parentheses. If the moving company is GOOD, you’ll see a positive sign to the left of the parentheses. If the moving company is BAD, you’ll spot a negative sign there.

Here’s how this idea looks:

+ (    )     The + sign here means you’ve hired a GOOD moving company for this box of stuff.

– (    )     This – sign means that you’ve hired a BAD moving company to pack up this box of things.

Now let’s put a few “possessions” inside the boxes.

+ (2x – 4)  This means a GOOD moving company has packed up your treasured items: the 2x and the – 4.

– (2x – 4)  Au contraire! This means that a BAD moving company has packed up the 2x and the – 4.

[Remember, of course, that the term 2x is actually a + 2x. No sign visible means there’s an invisible + sign before the term.]

What difference does it make if the moving company is GOOD or BAD? A big difference! If it’s a GOOD company, it packs your things up WELL.  Result: when you unpack your items, they come out exactly the same way in which they went into the box. So since a good moving company packed up your things in the expression:  + (2x – 4), when you go to unpack your things, everything will come out exactly as it went in. Here’s a representation of this unpacking process:

+ (2x – 4)

=      + 2x – 4

Note that when we take terms out of parentheses, we call this “unpacking” the terms. This works because algebra teachers fairly often describe the process of taking terms out of (   ) as “unpacking” the terms. So here’s a story whose rhetoric  matches the rhetoric of the algebraic process. Convenient, is it not?

Now let’s take a look at the opposite situation — what happens when you work with a BAD (boo, hiss!) moving company. In this case, the company does such a bad job that when you unpack your items, each and every item comes out  “broken.” In math, we indicate that terms are “broken” by showing that when they come out of the (  ), their signs,  + or – signs, are the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they should be. So if a term was packed up as a + term, it would come out as a – term.  Vice-versa, if it was packed up as a – term, it would come out as a + term. We show the process of unpacking terms packed by a BAD moving company, as follows:

– (2x – 4)

=      – 2x + 4

And that pretty much sums up the entire process. Understanding this story, students will be able to “unpack” terms from parentheses, over and over, with accuracy and understanding.

But since Practice Makes Perfect, here are a few problems to help your kiddos perfect this skill.

PROBLEMS:

“Unpack” these terms by removing the parentheses and writing the terms’ signs correctly:

a)  – (5a + 3)

b)  + (5a – 3)

c)  – (– 3a + 2b – 7)

d)  + (– 3a + 2b – 7)

e)  6 + (3a – 2)

f)  6 – (3a – 2)

g)  4a + 6 + (– 9a – 5)

h)  4a + 6 – (– 9a – 5)

a)  – (5a + 3)   =   – 5a – 3

b)  + (5a – 3)  =  + 5a – 3

c)  – (– 3a + 2b – 7)  =  + 3a – 2b + 7

d)  + (– 3a + 2b – 7) = – 3a + 2b – 7

e)  6 + (3a – 2)  =  + 3a + 4

f)  6 – (3a – 2)  =  – 3a + 8

g)  4a + 6 + (– 9a – 5)  =  – 5a + 1

h)  4a + 6 – (– 9a – 5)  =  + 13a + 11

Josh Rappaport is the author of five books on math, including the Parents Choice-award winning Algebra Survival Guide. If you like how Josh explains these problems, you’ll certainly  like the Algebra Survival Guide and companion Workbook, both of which are available on Amazon.com  Just click the links in the sidebar for more information!

### New Approaches to Help Students Overcome Math Struggles

No one would attempt to climb Mount Everest in a day.

But when we teach math, we often expect something similar from students. We expect them to learn a complex, multi-step process in one lesson, in one hour. We expect them to go from no awareness of the process, to awareness to competence to mastery. And we don’t take account of the fact that many math process requires a long ladder of thought steps. In edu-jargon, this process of taking all of the little steps into account — and teaching each step individually — is called “scaffolding.”

Like climbing Everest, doing Math requires many STEPS

I have long found “scaffolding” important in working with students who struggle with math in general and algebra in particular. (more…)

### How to tell if a Number is Divisible by 8

I’ve explained a number of divisibility rules lately, offering tricks to tell if numbers are divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

There is also a trick for divisibility by 8, and that’s what I’d like to explain in this post.

Essentially the trick for 8 is a lot like the trick for 4. If you’d like to refresh your memory on how that trick works, just go here. (more…)

### How to Multiply Even Numbers by 5 — FAST!

Time for a math trick …

Q:  How do you multiply an even number by 5 in lightning speed?

A:  Divide the number by 2, then tack on a “0.”

Example:   5 x 24

Divide 24 by 2 to get 12.

Tack a “0” onto 12 to get 120. Presto, nothing up your sleeve. It’s that easy.

Why does it work? Hint: Think about how we multiply by 10. Then think about how multiplying by 5 compares to multiplying by 10.

Image via Wikipedia

Try these for fun (answers at bottom of post):

a)  5  x  16

b)  5  x  8

c)  5  x  28

d)  5  x  64

e)  5  x  142

f)  5  x  2,468

g)  5  x  6,042

h)  5  x  86,432

j)  5  x  888,888

a)  5  x  16 = 80

b)  5  x  8 = 40

c)  5  x  28 = 140

d)  5  x  64 = 320

e)  5  x  142 = 710

f)  5  x  2,468 = 12,340

g)  5  x  6,042 = 30,210

h)  5  x  86,432 = 432,160

j)  5 x 888,888 = 4,444,440

k)  5  x  2,486,248 = 12,431,240

### How to Multiply by 25 in Your Head

This is a simple trick that anyone can easily learn. It is just a trick for
multiplying a number by 25.

If someone asked you what 25 times 36 equals, you’d probably be tempted
to reach for a calculator and start punching buttons. But remarkably, you’d
probably be able to work it out even faster in your head.

Since 25 is one-fourth of 100, multiplying by 25 is the same thing as
multiplying by 100 and dividing by 4. Or, even more simply:
first divide by 4, then add two zeros.

Here’s the example:

Problem: 36 x 25
First divide 36 by 4 to get 9.
Then add two zeros to get: 900.
That, amazingly enough, is the answer.

Another example: 88 x 25
First divide 88 by 4 to get 22.
Then add two zeros to get: 2,200.

a) 25 x 12
b) 25 x 28
c) 25 x 48
d) 25 x 60
e) 25 x 84
f) 25 x 96

a) 300
b) 700
c) 1,200
d) 1,500
e) 2,100
f) 2,400

But, you say, what if the number you start with is not divisible by 4.
No problem. Just use this fact:
if the remainder is 1, that is the same as 1/4 or .25
if the remainder is 2, that is the same as 2/4 or .50
if the remainder is 3, that is the same as 3/4 or .75

So take a problem like this: 25 x 17
dividing 17 by 4, you get 4 remainder 1.
But that is the same as 4.25
Now just move the decimal right two places (same as multiplying by 100)

Another example: 25 x 18
dividing 18 by 4, you get 4 remainder 2.
But that is the same as 4.50
Now move the decimal right two places.

Another example: 25 x 19
dividing 19 by 4, you get 4 remainder 3.
But that is the same as 4.75
Now move the decimal two places to the right.

A) 25 x 21
B) 25 x 26
C) 25 x 35
D) 25 x 42
E) 25 x 63
F) 25 x 81

A) 525
B) 650
C) 875
D) 1,050
E) 1,575
F) 2,025

### Multiplication Trick #3 — How to Multiply by 25 FAST!

Here’s the third in my series of multiplication tricks. The first was a trick for multiplying by 5. The second a trick for multiplying by 15, and now this one, a trick for multiplying by 25. Anyone see a pattern?

TRICK #3:

WHAT THE TRICK LETS YOU DO: Quickly multiply numbers by 25.

HOW YOU DO IT:  The key to multiplying by 25 is to think about quarters, as in “nickels, dimes, and quarters.”

Since four quarters make a dollar, and a dollar is worth 100 cents, the concept of quarters helps children see that 4 x 25 = 100.

Since four quarters make one dollar, children can see that twice that many quarters, 8, must make two dollars (200 cents). And from that fact children can see that 8 x 25 = 200.

Following this pattern, children can see that twelve quarters make three dollars (300 cents). So 12 x 25 = 300. And so on.

Fine. But how does all of this lead to a multiplication trick?

The trick is this. To multiply a number by 25, divide the number by 4 and then tack two 0s at the end, which is the same as multiplying by 100.

A few more examples:

16 x 25. Divide 16 by 4 to get 4, so the answer is 400. [In money terms, 16 quarters make \$4 = 400 cents.]

24 x 25. Divide 24 by 4 to get 6, so the answer is 600. [In money terms, 24 quarters make \$6 = 600 cents.]

48 x 25. Divide 48 by 4  to get 12, so the answer is 1200. [In money terms, 48 quarters make \$12 = 1200 cents.]

Try these for practice:

20 x 25

32 x 25

36 x 25

16 x 25

24 x 25

44 x 25

52 x 25

76 x 25

20 x 25  =  500

32 x 25  =  800

36 x 25  =  900

16 x 25  =  400

24 x 25  =  600

44 x 25  =  1100

52 x 25  =  1300

76 x 25  =  1900

But wait, you protest … what about all of the numbers that are not divisible by 4? Good question! But it turns out that there’s a workaround. You still divide by 4, but now you pay attention to the remainder.

If the remainder is 1, that’s like having 1 extra quarter, an additional 25 cents, so you add 25 to the answer.

Example:  17 x 25. Since 17 ÷ 4 = 4 remainder 1, the answer is 400 + 25 = 425.

If the remainder is 2, that’s like having 2 extra quarters, an additional 50 cents, so you add 50 to the answer.

Example: 26 x 25. Since 26 ÷ 4 = 6 remainder 2, the answer is 600 + 50 = 650.

If the remainder is 3, that’s like having 3 extra quarters, an additional 75 cents, so you add 75 to the answer.

Example:  51 x 25. Since 51 ÷ 4 = 12 remainder 3, the answer is 1200 + 75 = 1275.

Now try these for practice:

9 x 25

11 x 25

14 x 25

19 x 25

22 x 25

25 x 25

34 x 25

49 x 25

9 x 25  =  225

11 x 25  =  275

14 x 25  =  350

19 x 25  =  475

22 x 25  =  550

25 x 25  =  625

34 x 25  =  850

49 x 25  =  1225

Happy teaching!

—  Josh

Josh Rappaport is the author of five books on math, including the Parents Choice-award winning Algebra Survival Guide. If you like how Josh explains these problems, you’ll certainly  like the Algebra Survival Guide and companion Workbook, both of which are available on Amazon.com  Just click the links in the sidebar for more information!

### Multiplication Trick: x 15 — How to Multiply by 15 FAST!

Here’s the second in my set of multiplication tricks. (The first was a trick or multiplying by 5.)

TRICK #2:

WHAT THE TRICK LETS YOU DO: Multiply numbers by 15 — FAST!

HOW YOU DO IT: When multiplying a number by 15, simply multiply the number by 10, then add half.

EXAMPLE:15 x 6

6 x 10 = 60

Half of 60 is 30.

60 + 30 = 90

That’s the answer:15 x 6 = 90.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE:15 x 24

24 x 10 = 240

Half of 240 is 120.

240 + 120 = 360

That’s the answer:15 x 24 = 360.

EXAMPLE WITH AN ODD NUMBER:15 x 9

9 x 10 = 90

Half of 90 is 45.

90 + 45 = 135

That’s the answer:15 x 9 = 135.

EXAMPLE WITH A LARGER ODD NUMBER:23 x 15

23 x 10 = 230

Half of 230 is 115.

230 + 115= 345

That’s the answer:15 x 23 = 345.

15 x 4

15 x 5

15 x 8

15 x 12

15 x 17

15 x 20

15 x 28

15 x 4=60

15 x 5=75

15 x 8=120

15 x 12=180

15 x 17=255

15 x 20=300

15 x 28=420

Josh Rappaport is the author of five books on math, including the Parents Choice-award winning Algebra Survival Guide. If you like how Josh explains these problems, you’ll certainly  like the Algebra Survival Guide and companion Workbook, both of which are available on Amazon.com  Just click the links in the sidebar for more information!

### Memorizing those Times Tables

Is there any area of elementary math more fraught with stress and anxiety, save, perhaps, long division? Probably not. But for good reason.

Despite what a tiny minority of conceptual-learning purists might say, the times table facts ARE critical. Let’s face it: you really DON’T want your children to spend the rest of their lives reaching for the calculator to figure out 6 x 7; a certain amount of math simply needs to become automatic, to allow students to succeed at higher math skills and and to gain higher math concepts. Not only that, but knowing the times tables is widely recognized as a crucial milestone in children’s elementary math development.

In my work as a tutor, I’ve used many approaches to teach the times tables over the years, and each of them has one benefit or another. But I’ve settled on one technique as my “old-faithful” approach. This technique combines elements of both play and discipline, and it also melds both the “conceptual” approach and the “pure memorization” approach.

This technique relies on a three-step process, and it’s easy to learn and teach.

The first step is to simply isolate a particular times table fact set you’d like your child to work on, for example, the 4s. This act of isolating itself is critical. The child knows that she or he is required to memorize a limited set of facts for now (not the entire times tables), and that narrowing of the task decreases anxiety.

Once you’ve settled on the fact set, the second step begins, and it can be quite fun. In this second step there should be no mention even made of the times tables. All you’re doing in this step is laying the foundation for times tables facts. What you do here is work with your students/children to help them learn to first COUNT UP by the number you’re dealing with. So for example, if you’re teaching the 4s, you simply teach children how to COUNT UP by 4s. What that means is that you teach your children how to think their way through knowing and saying the following with speed and ease:  0 – 4 – 8 – 12 – 16 – 20 – 24 – 28 – 32 – 36 – 40 – 44 – 48.

I’ve found that most children take well to this learning process if you approach it in the spirit of a game. You might, for example, start by saying 0 and then throw your child a ball. She or he will then say 4 and throw the ball back to you. You then would say 8, and then throw the ball back to your child. Keep going till you hit the peak number, 40, 48, or wherever you decide to stop.

Another way to make this into a game for young children is to make it into a game like “patty-cake.” Make up a set of hand gestures to which you, very quietly, say:  1-2-3, and then clap hands and loudly say “4!” Then use the same hand gestures to quietly say:  5-6-7, and then clap again and loudly say: “8!” There are many ways to make this process of counting by 4s game-like. And if you’re short on ideas, ask your children/students what would make it fun for them.

In any case, once your children can accurately COUNT UP by 4s, work with them in the same fashion to COUNT DOWN by 4s. Same idea, but now you start by saying 48, or 40, and then help them count DOWN:  44 – 40 – 36 – 32 –  28 – 24 – 20 – 16 – 12 – 8 – 4 – 0. This takes a bit more time, but it can be done — and more easily than you might imagine.

Once your child can count both up and down, she or he has the mental “scaffolding” on which the times table facts are hung, as it were.

And so the third step involves combining this “scaffolding” with the actual times tables. Here’s how.

Have your children memorize what I call THE THREE KEY MULTIPLICATION FACTS:
x 1,  x 5, and x 10.

For example, when learning the 4s, these key facts would be:
4 x 1 = 4
4 x 5 = 20
4 x 10 = 40

Once children memorize those three key facts, help them see that to find 4 x 2 and 4 x 3, they just COUNT UP by 4 once or twice, beyond the key fact of 4 x 1 = 4. Similarly, to find 4 x 6 and 4 x 7 they just COUNT UP by 4 once or twice, beyond the key fact of 4 x 5 = 20. And to find 4 x 11 and 4 x 12, they just COUNT UP by 4 once or twice beyond the key fact of 4 x 10 = 40.

Work on this first, and have them master it before proceeding.

Once a child knows these facts, she or he has 9 of the 13 key facts (going from 4 x 0 through 4 x 12).

To learn the four other facts, help children see that to find 4 x 4 and 4 x 3, they just COUNT DOWN by 4 once or twice, below the key fact of 4 x 5 = 20. And to find 4 x 9 and 4 x 8, they just COUNT DOWN by 4 once or twice, below the key fact of 4 x 10.

By breaking the process of learning the times tables into these steps, you make the process less daunting for children. By teaching students how to COUNT UP or COUNT DOWN by the number you’re learning, you help children develop many rich aspects of number sense. And by connecting the process of COUNTING UP or DOWN to the times tables, you help children learn these critical facts both solidly and with understanding.

My advice:  try it. I guarantee that you’ll like it.

Happy Teaching,

—  Josh