Students have learned all the coin and dollar amounts prior to entering second grade (see counting money lessons). They learned how to combine the coins to make higher values, as well as adding the dollar values with the coins. They were slightly aware of the addition process they were displaying, but thought of it more as play money and a game to get the correct value the teacher announced. The basic skills of addition and subtraction also were taught and now, at the second grade level, adding and subtracting of money will be taught (see Money Math).
Before monetary value is even taught, the teacher must teach about the decimal point and what rules it represents and followed during arithmetic. The concept can be abstract to some second grade students. Many times mentioning the money part does not come till the end of the lesson, as if it was a surprise. The first part, which is repeated numerous times, is matching up the decimal points. First, the cent values are used, only two numbers for the first week or two. Then the dollar amounts are used, reminding the students that regardless of how many numbers there are, the decimal places must always line up.
This is not an easy concept and money isn’t mentioned at first till a few weeks into the lesson. Each student has a set of fake money (see fake money) to help them understand the concept. In the real world, adults use real money where we can count our values so why shouldn’t students have the same opportunity when learning? The students do not receive the fake money till the concept of a decimal point is understood. Teachers will give a ditto with problems ranging from the basic concept of one place holder with a decimal, to the more challenging of four place holders with a decimal after two numbers. The first few problems, the decimal will be lined up properly; the last few; the student will have to line up the decimal themselves by rewriting the problem.
The reasons for this are decimals are not just used with money values but with percentages and weight. To be able to teach a concept with more than one meaning helps the students and teachers. Once this is learned, then the students are told that money is also written with decimal points. For example, a quarter is valued at twenty-five cents; then the teacher shows the numerical value written out is $.25. The same goes for the five dollar bill, first it is written in words and then the numerical version of $5.00. There is practice writing the values from the numerical value to the written word and vice versa. If a student doesn’t understand this first concept before moving forward, they could become very confused.
What money is used for and the basic need and value of money is not taught till fourth grade. Due to state standards in math requirements, the concept of adding decimals and recognizing money is what must be taught and focused on. Beginning in third grade, the comprehensive problem solving questions will begin. This requires understanding both reading and math skills, and problem solving skills.
Most of third grade is review of the money concept of addition and subtraction and teaching multiplication and division. Through the problem solving, many times the questions require these processes to be used. Due to the decimal point not having to line up, many students begin to feel lost and shy away from asking for help.
Be aware at this level that if a student or your child is displaying a frustration for math, this very well could be the culprit. Between second and third grade, the four different operations are taught about decimal place and money. It can become confusing for a student who is still trying to retain the first part of the concept from a year ago!
Patience and understanding with these students will be appreciated and it is not about not learning the concept but just learning at a different pace. The reality is students today are learning and retaining a lot more information than ever before and due to the state standards; it puts pressures on both the student and teacher. The reason being is it all comes down to money.