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In the sixth grade, mathematics continues to be something that is used, something children see as extending far beyond school; unless this is the case, math loses its power to engage the children's interest. While teachers expect children to be reasonably adept with computational skills such as multiplication and division, they are more concerned with whether children understand when to add and subtract, to use a calculator, to estimate, and to arrange information on a graph. Sixth grade students typically begin to have an understanding of probability, are able to note relationships among numbers, patterns, or events, and are comfortable with various models for problem solving.

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 continue to ask the children to develop personal theories by thinking about different ways to solve mathematical problems. Because children of this age cannot fully understand math if it stands on its own, apart from all other subjects, math will continue to be used in social studies, science, and language arts work.

Sixth grade children are encouraged to think out ways to solve problems -- teachers often ask, "How can we solve this problem?" For example, the teacher might present the following 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. Teachers will provide children with many different problem-solving strategies.

You will probably not see a great difference between the math your child studied in the fifth grade and the math he or she studies in the sixth grade. But you will notice more elements of geometry (especially in the study of shapes) and of algebra (in problems such as 3x + 6 = 15).

The goal of mathematics in the sixth grade is to help children maintain a good sense of what numbers mean; children should regard math as commonplace, as accessible as any other subject in school. All children, girls and boys alike, should know that mathematics is not a mystery that only a select few cart master. It should be -- and in the best settings it is -- fully available to all.

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August 27, 2014

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