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Mathematics in the Fifth Grade

What kids should learn in Math
In the fifth grade, mathematics continues to be something that is used, something children see as extending far beyond school. While children are expected to do basic computational functions such as adding, subtracting, dividing, and multiplying, in the best classrooms math consists of much more than worksheets filled with problems or drills on number facts. Children:

  • understand when to add and subtract, to use a calculator, to estimate, and to arrange information on a graph;
  • begin to have an understanding of probability and how to judge it;
  • learn to see how relationships among numbers, patterns, or events can be made more understandable with mathematical formulations;
  • establish models for problem solving.
Much of this learning is embedded in the computer programs that your child uses at school.

Teachers spend a good deal of time helping the children develop mental models -- that is, teaching the children how to visualize problems and solutions. They will also ask the children to develop personal theories by thinking about different ways to solve mathematical problems. Because math cannot be completely understood at this age, when it stands apart from all other subjects, math will continue to be used in social studies, science, and language arts work.

What you should expect from your fifth grader
You should expect to see your fifth grade child become a much better estimator than he or she was before. Further, your child will be able to see patterns in numbers more easily -- for example, he or she will recognize that if a sequence of numbers begins with 1, 2, 4,8 the subsequent numbers will lie 16, 32, 64. Your child will also begin to understand probability -- that is, he or she will have a sense of how likely it is that a flipped coin will show heads twice as often as tails.

A fifth grade child should also be able to measure things with precision and to manage fractions fairly well -- although, because of their use of calculators, children are increasingly familiar with decimals. Children are also encouraged to think out ways to solve problems -- teachers often ask, "How can we solve this problem?"

"If your kite got stuck on the roof of the school, how would you know how long a ladder you would need to get it down?" The emphasis is less on finding the correct answer than on showing that there are multiple ways of approaching the problem.

The goal of mathematics in the fifth grade is to help children maintain a good sense of what numbers mean and to make them feel that math is as commonplace and accessible as any other subject in school. Mathematics is not a mystery that only a select few can master. It should be -- and in the best settings it is -- fully available to all.

Reprinted from 101 Educational Conversations with Your 5th Grader by Vito Perrone published by Chelsea House Publishers.
Copyright 1994 by Chelsea House Publishers, a division of Main Line Book Co. All rights reserved.
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