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Refreshing your mind on math facts can help answers add up

January 21, 2005|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

I was talking with another mother recently about the math terms that seem to roll with ease off our children's tongues.

She said a relative was looking over one of her son's assignments and asked, "What's a dividend?"

He responded, "A number that is being divided."

The relative was surprised that he responded so quickly.

It has been a long time since most adults have attended math class. We remember how to do the problems, but perhaps don't remember all the terminology.

Why is it important for our children to know what things are called as long as they know how to do the work? There are a couple of reasons.


A familiarity of math terms helps a child answer problems correctly. If a question asks for the dividend to be identified and the child doesn't know what a dividend is, he'll probably get that question wrong.

It's also helpful to know the terms because they are universal. Whether a child is taking a test at school, a standardized test or a college entrance exam, the terms remain the same.

Plus, a knowledge of the terms will make the child feel smart. This provides a good foundation of math confidence that hopefully will carry over into middle and high school.

As a parent or grandparent, you can help by reacquainting yourself with the terms elementary-age students are expected to know.

Here are just a few:

· sum - the answer to an addition problem.

· difference - the answer to a subtraction problem.

· factors - numbers that are multiplied together. The factors of a number are all the whole numbers that can divide that number evenly. Children might be asked to identify the factors of a number. The factors of 10 are 1, 2, 5 and 10. Every number has at least two factors: 1 and itself. For example, the factors of 13 are 1 and 13.

· product - the answer to a multiplication problem.

· quotient - the answer of a division problem.

· divisor - the number by which the dividend is divided. In the problem 15 divided by 3 is equal to 5, 15 is the dividend, 3 is the divisor and 5 is the quotient.

· algorithm - a procedure for getting an answer.

· geometry - the study of shapes.

· horizontal lines - lines level with the horizon, the place where the earth and sky seem to meet. These lines run sideways.

· vertical lines - lines straight up from the horizon. These lines run up and down.

· oblique lines - lines that are neither horizontal nor vertical. These lines are slanted or diagonal.

· parallel lines - lines that go in the same direction and stay the same distance apart. Railroad tracks are a good example of this type of line.

· intersecting lines - lines that cross.

· perpendicular lines - lines that intersect, forming right angles. Children who have not learned about right angles may be taught to look for "square corners" where the lines intersect. If a square can be formed in the corner of the intersection, the lines are perpendicular.

· polygon - a shape that closes in an area with straight lines.

· perimeter - the distance around a polygon. If the polygon is a rectangle with a length of 3 centimeters and a width of 2 centimeters, the distance around that polygon is 3 cm + 3 cm (the two long sides) + 2 cm + 2 cm (the two short sides). The perimeter is 10 centimeters.

· circumference - the length of a curve. The perimeter of a circle is called its circumference.

· diameter - the distance across a circle through its center.

· radius - the distance from the center of a circle to its curve. The radius is half the diameter.

Children also should be familiar with terms about the divisions of time. Here are some of those terms:

· decade - a period of 10 years.

· century - a period of 100 years.

· millennium - a period of 1,000 years. Note the spelling of this word: two l's and two n's.

· contemporary - belonging to or living in the same period of time.

· annual - occurring once every year.

· centennial - 100th anniversary.

· simultaneously - at the same time.

· punctual - on time; prompt.

· continuous - going on without interruption.

These definitions were adapted from the Saxon Math 65 textbook and the A Beka Book Spelling, Vocabulary and Poetry 5 textbooks, both of which have proven invaluable this year in my fifth-grade classroom.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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