For some kids, math just comes easy. Throw any drill or problem at them, and they take on the challenge with vigour. For other kids, math is fraught with wrong answers and frustrations. Those kids would rather be eating chopped liver than doing math. “Mom, I just can’t do math!,” claim kids who often feel lost and exasperated from an early age.
As a parent, it is difficult to know what to do. It’s frustrating to try and teach a child who has given up before you have even started. You might wonder if maybe your child is right: He really just can’t do math.
JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies) changed the way I thought about math ability. Its philosophy claims that with proper guidance every child has the potential to excel at mathematics. John Mighton, the award-winning playwright and mathematician who founded JUMP, believes that self-confidence is one of the biggest barriers to kids’ success in math. Hierarchies in classrooms of “smart” kids and “dumb” kids are demoralizing, and cause the slower learners to effectively shut down. Sound too politically correct to be true? The numbers speak for themselves. In a randomized controlled study conducted by OISE and the University of Toronto, researchers found that the math knowledge of children using JUMP Math grew twice as much as that of children using the incumbent program. More than 70,000 students now use JUMP math across Canada.
How does JUMP work? Can you use it at home?
In a nutshell, difficult concepts are reduced to manageable steps. Scaffolding, step-by-step explanations, and continuous assessment enable students to gain mastery of skills and concepts. JUMP is not based on rote learning, but the assumption is that students cannot be forced to discover everything on their own. “I know from my own work as a student and researcher that discoveries in mathematics are often made in tiny, painstaking steps.” says John Mighton
Breaking concepts into smaller steps sets kids up for success, and opens them to celebrate every achievement. In a New York Times blog Mighton explained: “Children who struggle in math usually have difficulty remembering math facts, handling word problems and doing multi-step arithmetic … Studies indicate that current teaching approaches underestimate the amount of explicit guidance, “scaffolding” and practice children need to consolidate new concepts. Asking children to make their own discoveries before they solidify the basics is like asking them to compose songs on guitar before they can form a C chord.”
Since JUMP is a registered charity, Workbooks can be purchased inexpensively, and proceeds support the non-profit organization. The easy to use teachers guides can be downloaded for free on the JUMP website. Workbook levels align with each grade of the Ontario math curriculum. All kids are introduced to JUMP with fractions, since Mighton discovered they build confidence and are an excellent preparation for grade-specific materials. The Fractions introductory unit is also free to download from the website.
It takes a little bit of effort to navigate the JUMP website, but it’s worth the time to understand the philosophy and methodology before using the workbooks at home.
“Intellectual abilities,” Mighton says, “can emerge from small advances.” I was skeptical at first, but have used this curriculum on my own children and in my tutoring practice to great success. So, next time your child screams “I can’t do math!” : JUMP!