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Your third grader and math

Facts, facts, and more facts! In addition to drilling those times tables, third graders focus on math facts rather than fancy ideas.

By GreatSchools Staff

Last fall results from national math exams stirred up a tempest in a standardized test. It turns out math scores rose more quickly before No Child Left Behind was implemented, and fourth-grade math scores haven’t improved since 2007. As reported in the New York Times, the achievement gap remains a chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

What does this mean for your child? While pundits and politicians battle over the big issues, it's up to parents to stay on top of the little ones: their own kids' academic development. Keep tabs on what your third grader should learn in math this year with our grade-based milestones. Of course, math curricula still vary widely from state to state as school districts grapple with how to implement the Common Core Standards, so these are merely guidelines. For a better sense of how your child's schoolwork compares, look up your state's math standards, see what the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends for preschool through high school, or read through the Common Core Standards for math.

In the classroom

What math concepts will your third grader learn?

"Every math concept your child is introduced to will form the basis for all future math studies," says Linda Eisinger, the 2005 Missouri Teacher of the Year.

Third graders move from addition and subtraction to multiplication and division. At this stage, teachers will introduce the concepts behind those math operations using pictures and objects.

Because many kids at this age have a keen interest in how things are put together, your child may develop an interest in rules and logic. As a whole, third graders tend to be full of enthusiasm but lack patience: They may give up easily on more difficult assignments but respond well when a project is broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks. While they may need help from the teacher on getting organized and tackling challenges, they can be productive in small groups.

Mastering math operations

Third graders should be comfortable with the basics of arithmetic — addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division — and using them in computation exercises and problem solving. Fact families help your child think about the relationship between multiplication and division. For example, if 3 x 4 = 12 and 4 x 3 = 12, then 12 ÷ 3 = 4 and 12 ÷ 4 = 3.

"In third grade the emphasis is on the recall of facts," Eisinger explains. "This helps greatly when trying to introduce new concepts like regrouping and multiplication."

From fractions and geometry

Third graders are introduced to fractions via measuring and weighing objects. They may also work with angles and perimeters, creating geometric patterns with pencil and paper.

Knowing numbers

In third grade your child will learn to count by 100s up to 1,000 and beyond. He or she will also learn about place value and how to read and write four-digit numbers.

Time, money, and graphs

Third graders should become more familiar with telling time, learning to tell time to the minute quickly. A typical exercise would be: "It's 2:45. How much time has passed since 2:15?"

Though they may be more familiar with pocket change, third graders will get a chance to work with $5, $10, and $20 bills. They should also learn how to make change — and for this type of learning, leading questions can be beneficial: "How much change should Alex get if he gives the clerk a $20 bill and his groceries cost $18.25?"

Third-graders also continue to work with graphs, learning about line graphs and more sophisticated types of bar graphs.

Calculators: Tool or crutch?

How much should elementary school students rely on calculators? The issue has been debated by math teachers, university professors, and parents, but there is general agreement that calculators shouldn’t be a substitute for learning basic arithmetic skills. Talk to your child's teacher about how they are used in his or her classroom. For a discussion on the pros and cons of calculators, check out Education World’s article "Educators Battle Over Calculator Use: Both Sides Claim Casualties."

Updated January 2010

Comments from readers

"If your child is ahead and getting bored, work with the school to see whether your child could go with older class for math. I did that and it worked fine. See how it would work for your child and for their school. By the time I graduated high school, I had some college credits completed - without having to pay for them! P.S. Homeschooling may be the best solution for customized learning for your gifted child. "
"My son is far ahead of this. He is doing double digit multiplication, and division. He is also starting to work with exponents and adding and subtracting fractions. I was worried his school was not staying up on standards because they are just starting multiplication and he is way ahead, but according to this and other sites this seems to be the norm to start multiplication in 3rd grade. What do I do now that he is so far ahead and getting bored? "
" has good practice on it. ( )"
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"A couple of people have asked for websights that help with math skills; they should put the skill and the age of the student into a Google search. That way they can get the proper help. I also recommend after school programs, flashcards and doing all their homework. There is also a websight called Wizeant that can help them find a tutor in their area!"
"My third grader was introduced to times tables this fall.....however they moved through them so fast, and my son was already falling behind on mastering the tests. To date, he's only managed to pass his 3x test. And since they got back from Christmas break, they're already onto long division, before most of the kids have even mastered multiplication! The pace is ridiculous. It's like they just skim the surface and move on, whethere the kids have absorbed it or not!"
"Some of the questions asked are great questions. Is there a website I can go to, to see what the answer were to some of the questions so I do not have to ask the same questions?"
"I would like to know what free websites would you recommend for third grade math practice including timed math practice ."
"i want some websites that can help me with 3rd grade maths"
"i want my 3rd grader to be real good in maths ,i want some free websites that can help me with it"
"That is wonderfull website and helps a lot. I would like my Third Grader will be ahead of his math. Where I can get FREE web sites that I can find math problems for the 3rd and 4th graders."
"Your articles are great. Where can I find the math problems to help my grandson with on the computer. Do you have any links I can go to. Thank You"
"I find your e-mail is very informative! As a former Director of an International School, I wish I could of sent out 2-mails of which we didn't fifteen years ago. No I can keep on top of my Grandsons' schooling in Grades 1 & 3! thank you, Eileen Feizbakhsh"
"Our school starts multiplication and division in the Second grade -- they take timed tests and have to finish 40 problems in 5 min or less to be advanced proficient. Third grade they continue with addition/subtraction 100 in less than 5mins, and mulitpilication/division and geometry (area and perimeter). "
"Thank you for the useful web site. I'm up here in Maine and my dear granddaughter is in Jupiter. The site is helpful for me to be able to know what she is studying in school and for me to help encourage her."
"Thank God for this website and this newsletter... You guys really make it ten times easier for a busy, single, very concerned parent like myself to stay above the water and ahead of the game. You've helped me pick the best school for my son, and now you are helping me stay on top of the game as far as his learning standards and expectations overall on a third grade level are concerned. Having a career sometimes limits you to the amount of time you are able to spend at your child's school. The use of this website works hand-in-hand with the school and myself to make sure I, as his mom, am on the same page where it comes to my son's education and standard of learning; only two of the most important and valuable aspects of child rearing... Thank you.., Thank you.., a thousand times, Thank you! "
"Great article! I am so pleased because my son is right on target and was working on some of the concepts at the end of second grade. Our school is an A+, America's Choice school and I'm very pleased with everything there. It is very helpful to know what expectations are for third grade. I love getting a little start on things at home. The more knowledgeable I am of the curriculum the better teacher I can be at home. Thank you."
"This article is very helpful. If I know what they are learning or will be learning, it will be easier to take everyday situations and help her learn with them."
"NO calculators. I went through this with my son (now 43) and I see the battle coming up with my 3rd-grader granddaughter. Or I should say, with her teachers. I never fought with my son over this. Rule was simple: No, you will not take a calculator to school. Not in the second grade. Time will come, in high school, after learning and understanding fundamentals, including square and cubic roots, when a calculator and a computer will be the right tools to use in learning the application of basic math concepts."
"the use of calculators is similar to the use of computers. when used appropriately, it is a powerful tool that allows students to begin discovering mistakes with his/her own mental mathematics. if a calculator is used inappropriately (for every single problem) it can cause damage. the same goes for a computer. if students just surf the web, it isn't a helpful tool, but if students are forced to research and focus on educational areas, the computer is a powerful tool. no one complains about the use of computers (which are misused much more than calculators may i add.)we say that students need to be familiar with the computer before 7th grade. imaging that a student has never seen or touched a computer before 7th grade. they will be behind. same with calculators. TI has designed different calculators that when used appropriately build student knowledge so that they can used a TI-84 graphing calculator without any problems. If a student doesn't touch a calculator unti! l 7th grade, then he/she will be behind mathematically. All technology can be misused. In the same sense all technology (we begin introducing calculator skills in the first grade appropriately because scientifically based research shows that it helps prepare students for upper level math such as Geometry, Trig, and Calculus)can help our society grow. I bet the person who invented the cell phone probably began using the calculator way before 7th one complains about that."
"have you ever been to the grocery store and the clerk forgot to put in that you gave her a 10.00 and the change due is not on the screen? i (being raised in an anit-calculator family) can usually calculate the change before they FIND their calculator. the concept as WELL as the math skills are equally important."
"It is my personal opinion that kids should not being allowed to use calculators 'till more advance grades or more complex operations. Also I will discourage the use of fingers to resolve simple sums. At least, as a first choice."
"Calculators should NOT be used in elementary school, period. Kids need to learn the basics BEFORE technology. Technology can fail and without the basics, so will kids if and when technology does fail. Did you ever go into a grocery store and watch a cashier under age 25 or so try to calculate the proper change without the use of the register? They can't do it and that is a travesty for our young."
"I know that I have email you before, but I have to say it again, THANK YOU!!!! Your website has helped me so much and given me so much insight on what my child needs to know and what he should be learning. I was totally lost before. I was looking and not finding the answers to my questions. Thanks again. From a grateful Mom"
"Planes have auto-pilot too, so why teach pilots to fly? Just because a technology exists doesn't mean learning it the 'hard way' is senseless. Until we embed calculators in kids' wrists they will need basic math skills for everyday reasoning. A calculator doesn't teach reasoning. Kids seem to have 5+ hours a day to watch TV yet some parents want to spare them the 'pain' of learning the basics?? I'm glad these were not my parents!!"
"It's not right to deny children the means of technology. The concept is understood even if the equation is calculated for them. We live in a different generation why is it wrong? Why was the last generation so right? There are so many learning curves we are now aware of. It can help a child feel comforted to know that they can keep up with the rest of the class,despite their learning disabilities. Gives self-esteem, encourages participation,and brings everyone together in the same level of knowledge with no one left behind. IT IS NOT LIKE THERE WILL EVER BE A TIME IN LIFE THEY WONT HAVE ACCESS TO ONE. Sincerely Heather Leblanc NL Canada."