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Why do kids find division so damn hard?

June 19, 2018


 A comment I hear from kids a lot in the classroom is "I don't really get division".


Last week, my son did a basic facts test and left all the division sums blank. I can guess at a few reasons why he did this. One of the main reasons may be that kids are told "it's just the opposite of multiplication". This common description is a bit abstract for kids, so it does not stick and compounds the confusion.


You may have had this scenario at home during homework sessions. A division question which is met with a gruntled "I don't know" or a shrug of the shoulders.  This is when precise language is so important. The key is to say "use your times table knowledge" to help solve the division problems.


The Family of facts seems to have reduced air time in classrooms these days. Remember those? Here's a refresher.


7 x 8 = 56

8 x 7 = 56 

56 ÷ 7 = 8 

56 ÷8 = 7.


This group of equations help cement the relationship between division and multiplication and vice versa.


So to start with firstly, your child has to have an awareness of what is division. 


The idea of sharing fairly or sharing equally could help out. All children understand the idea of sharing fairly, especially amongst siblings! My son responded well to the idea that you have a lot of things that need to be made into groups, how many are in each group? This helped him to see the correlation between division and multiplication.


So how do you help when your child has a division question for homework and they instinctively start googling the answer themselves?




Let's say you had a question like  ---- A Farmer put 32 eggs on 4 different trays. How many eggs are on each tray?   Here's a little script for you and your child: 


"They are asking - What is 32 divided by 4?

Then write the equation 32 ÷ 4 = ?

"You don't know the answer but let's use our times tables to work it out!" (said with enthusiasm!) 


"The two numbers we know in this problem are 4 and 32.

So using our times tables knowledge - The Farmer had 4 trays and he put some eggs on each tray, the Farmer used 32 eggs altogether. What times table is that?"


"So, 4 x what is 32 ?" 

Write 4 x = 32


At this point, the child may know that the answer is 8 or they may need to use a times table chart or poster to look up this information. That is totally fine. The resource will support them until they are able to flex their memory math muscle and answer the question within a couple of seconds.


Reinforce the thinking:

4 x 8 = 32


32 ÷ 4 = 8


or 4 trays with 8 eggs on each tray equals 32 so 32 eggs put on 4 trays is 8 eggs on each tray. That's a lot of tray and egg talk!


Over time and with increased confidence this lengthy speech will be shortened as connections are made and more of the workload and unpacking of the process is transferred over to your child.


If your child is at a more basic stage, start with physical resources such as counters, felts, seeds or nuts so that kids can make the connections. One downside of food based counters that I found working with my kids is that they may eat them while using them and then it no longer makes sense!


Over time counters can be put away and they can draw their workings. There is lots of understanding going on here but too often kids (even at high school) keep drawing pictures for division when more time efficient options are available. 


To help my children see the relationships between multiplication and division. I recently made these games for them. There is a bit of preparation involved but they are cheap and easy to make. They are also an activity that does not require parent supervision. This is always a bonus as most of the time homework is done while dinner is being made in my house. 




You will need an egg carton (either 10 eggs or a dozen) and use either polystyrene balls, cardboard circles or stones etc. For multiplication, label the equation inside the carton and write the answers on the balls or circle.



For division, write the equation on the balls or circles and write the answers in the egg carton. I happened to find fake eggs at my local $2 shop.


Here is the game in action.



The children can complete the questions in order or randomly. Have a times table chart/poster handy so they can refer to it when needed. If you are looking for a poster that is engaging and vibrant check out our range www.smartarteducation.com. This activity is a great to way to encourage counting in multiples also.


After my son was feeling confident with his division sums, he played Math Monster Division on Maths Playground. Click here to play. Quick, cute and encouraging. It comes with a list of those sums they found difficult so that they can target those specific ones.


Happy dividing and conquering!







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