Fourth grade is a pivotal year in math. Although there aren’t many new subjects introduced, your child will explore several topics, especially long division and fractions, in greater depth. Being able to compute quickly and accurately becomes more vital, and those who can do calculations with ease may be grouped separately from those who need more time.
Long Division and Fractions
Confidence with calculations comes in handy when students tackle long division with double-digit divisors. Good number sense and estimation skills also help, since long division requires kids to make educated guesses about how many times a certain double-digit number, say 34, might go into 395.
Much time is also spent in 4th grade on fractions. In the past, fractions were treated superficially — students were given a set of rules that covered computing with fractions. But if they missed or forgot a rule, they were lost. In addition to understanding conceptually the relationship of a fraction to the whole, and of fractions to each other, 4th grade students learn how decimals and fractions relate to each other.
Differences in math ability become more evident in the 4th grade. Some kids can do a string of calculations in their heads, others struggle to add eight plus six. Children who rely on counting on their fingers or on other crutches may begin to fall behind. Many schools begin some sort of tracking now, either by dividing a class informally into small groups that can work at the same pace, or by having different teachers for different math levels.
Whatever level a child is at, teachers work hard to help students enjoy math and boost their skills. Educators know, however, that the more abstract a concept is, the more kids struggle. That’s why the best teachers try to relate math to everyday life, and come up with a range of activities to keep kids engaged. For example, a teacher might ask students to add up their own spelling grades and divide to find the average.
Solve It, Explain It
Problem-solving, an ever-important math skill, ties together the important concepts of number sense, data analysis, and basic computation skills. In many school districts, practice in solving open-ended questions is extra important, since these problems are a new feature of the standardized tests administered to most 4th graders in the spring. These exams, mandated by the No Child Left Behind testing signed into law in 2002 but administered by individual states, aim to judge whether the district’s children are meeting performance standards set by the states. They usually include multiple-choice tests as well as open-ended math problems. Children are graded on their mathematical reasoning along with their answer.