Tips for Helping Your Fourth Grader Learn About Variables and Symbols in Their Math Homework

In the fourth grade, math integers, variables, symbols and parentheses are used in equations called mathematical expressions. Keep reading to find out ways that you can help your child master these new math concepts and techniques at home.

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Helping Your Fourth Grader with Variables and Symbols

Explain Each Symbol

One of the easier ways to help your fourth grader understand variables and symbols is to explain what the purpose of each concept is separately. For instance, multiplication is represented with an 'x' (e.g., 5 x 4). These symbols can be broken down to better help you help your child. Your fourth grader can then apply this information to his or her homework and will often be surprised at how it suddenly makes sense.

Explaining Expressions and Variables

The most basic of these fourth grade math concepts is the actual equation itself, called an expression. Explain to your child that an expression is a type of mathematical statement that may use numbers, variables or sometimes both. In expressions, numbers are called integers. An integer is any whole number (positive or negative) including zero.

Variables, usually the next learning step in math expressions, are letters that represent unknown numerical values. Often, 'n', 't', 'x', or 'y' are used, but other letters or symbols may be used to represent a certain unit of measurement. For example, 't' may represent time or 'd' may represent distance.

Give your child an equation like 'x + 5 = 24'. Your child must first put the five on the same side as the 24. Once all the of numbers are on one side, the expression will usually be easier for your child to understand and figure out. The solution should look like this:

x + 5 = 24

x + 5 - 5 = 24 - 5

x = 19

Explaining Parentheses

The most confusing symbol to many kids is the parenthesis. Explain to your child that the application of parentheses means that what's inside must be completed first, before the rest of the equation should be figured out. By performing the inside calculations first, your child will find that the whole expression makes more sense.

For example, give your fourth grader the following equation: (5 x 3) + y = 30. First, instruct your child to solve 5 x 3. The equation should then look like this: 15 + y = 30. Subtract 15 from both sides to find that y = 15.

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