Our Maths Hell

17 Feb

Pile of ShacklesSo, four Mondays into our trip, and the home-schooling thing has hit a major speedbump. It’s the long division that’s killing both of us.

It’s a lovely sunny day in Phnom Penh, and we are encamped in the bar-restaurant opposite our guesthouse, using their internet, swigging lemon juice and sweating.

“So what is the next step?,” I say, with weary patience. He makes cow-eyes at me.

“We need to work out the tens now,” I say, in my best I-Am-A-Very-Nice-Patient-Person-And-Excellent-Mother-Who-In-No-Way-Needs-A-Large-Gin-And-Tonic falsetto. 

He stares at me, drops his head to the table. There is a pause. “I’ve got something in my eye,” he says.

The playlist, which runs from Under a Blood Red Sky through Beat It to Hotel California and Eye of the Tiger (yes, I know, I’m sorry), with nary a Bob Marley track in sight, is distracting both of us. In between rocking out, Z is sneaking glances at Madagascar Two, playing in Chinese with Khmer subtitles on the telly behind his head.

I am wishing I was at the market. Or at least addressing our mountain of laundry.

In Ratanakiri, the red dust roads are so friable that the banana trees and convolvulus at the road side turn an orange more neon than autumnal back to a depth of 10 metres or so. It’s like the forest has had a henna job and neglected to retouch its roots.

It’s also a real bugger to get out of your clothes. Takes two goes with soap even to get it off your skin.

“Remember what we did with the hundreds?” I say. I am pretty sure by now that he won’t, but hope springs eternal.

There is a pause. I check my Facebook. He stares into space.

“Are you Googling child murder again, mum?” he asks.


On the plus side, we have nearly killed times tables. With only two of you, old-school singsong chanting just feels ridiculous. Timing his speed on my mobile only worked for a short while.

In the end, we turned to Flash games.

Even here, the road to salvation was not an easy one.

We started with Space Racer X, where you have to steer a space ship away from asteroids by practicing multiplication.

I thought he kept dying because he couldn’t multiply. This was accurate up to a point.

Then I tried it myself. It rapidly became clear that you need the reflexes of a competitive X-Boxer to move the spaceship more than one place at a time.

Balloon Invaders looked promising. Essentially, you have to pop a wall of balloons containing answers to multiplication questions, which descend following an increasingly unpredictable path.

By the time we got to the four times table, however, the path was so unpredictable he might as well have been shooting randomly, and frustration was really setting in.

So we settled with the duller options.
Hit The Button is about as exciting as chanting, but worked equally well.

Hopefully the makers of Multiply Tunnel will not be branching out into Spell or Grammaring Tunnels. But it’s a relatively fun shooting game and worked well for revision.

But back to long division…

It didn’t help that the method I taught him is slightly different from that in the Snork who coaches you through the steps in long division, generating wild applause at every step.

And there I honestly thought — and he did too — that we had it cracked.

Yet Snork only goes up to three figures and doesn’t cover remainders. Confidence shattered. Peace broken. The end of a wonderful day…

We call it Death by Long Division. You can read Z’s take on it here.

And how we finally got it sorted, here.

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2 Responses to “Our Maths Hell”

  1. Brooke Drury at 9:18 am #

    Hello Theo:

    Am very much enjoying your travels and your writing. ‘ sounds like you and Z are having a wonderful time and the adventure of a lifetime. What a gift for you both! This posting in particular was entertaining as we have been struggling with motivation and instruction challenges from time to time throughout our voyage. (We started in September.)

    We are using ALEKS, a web based maths program from the US. We’ve been having great luck with it — the kids are nearly finished with their curriculum for the year. There have been “moments” though.

    Writing for our ten year old has been the real challenge. Getting him to explore his creative side is like pulling teeth without anesthetic. I think you’ve mentioned the same with regards to Z. Any advice?

    Cheers and best of luck in your continued travels.


    • MummyT at 9:46 am #

      Hi Brooke,
      Hi Brooke,

      One issue with Z is that he’s left-handed — and even without that, boys develop coordinated handwriting later than girls (I think there is also some data on boys and creative writing, which shows that they generally enjoy that less than girls, too). Given the handedness, writing on the computer is a big help.

      He’s set up his own blog (9yearold.wordpress.com), without prompting. He was going to do a daily journal but that proved such a warzone that the blog is a better outlet for him. We’ve also started work on touch-typing, so that his writing can keep pace with his thoughts a little better: I’ll let you know which programme works best.

      Blogging and limericks have both worked really well for him. Limericks, in particular, are satisfying because they are short, funny and to the point. He also wrote a good essay on the Khmer Rouge.

      On Monday, I am going to try an integrated, topic-based approach. We are in Vietnam right now, have just visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, the War Remnants Museum, met some veterans and heard (though not used — he’s too young!) a lot of heavy weaponry in action. He has also enjoyed reading about the tunnels.

      So I am thinking that an easy way to approach the creative writing element would be for him to write a story about life in the tunnels, or a dialogue/drama about the war — something that is firmly rooted in things that he has seen and is interested in, yet also requires descriptive writing and the use of his imagination.

      Best of luck to you all, too, and do stay in touch!


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