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Explaining the Difference Between Odd and Even Numbers

Sometimes we think everyone knows the difference between an odd and even number. When I was teaching my remedial math college class, we were learning the divisibility rules, the first of which is that every even number is divided by two. I wrote the number "546" on the board and asked the class if this was an odd or even number. I had one student who disagreed with the group answer of even. I asked him why he thought the number was odd, and he replied, "Because it has a "5" in it. " It was obvious this student got all the way through high school without a clear understanding of odd and even numbers. So the moral to this story is to be sure to discuss the difference between an even and an odd number with your students.
A good definition for an even number is that it can be put into groups of two without any left over, like giving each person a partner. But when you have an odd number of things and put them into groups of two, one will always be left out.
Try this approach. Make your hands into fists and place them side by side as seen in the illustration. Say a number. Now count, and as you count, put up one finger for each number said, alternating between hands, with fingers touching.

For instance, if you said “3”, you would count one, (left pointer fingerup) two, (right pointer finger up and touching the other pointer finger) three, (left middle finger up). Three is an odd number because one finger does not have a partner to touch.
Here is the sequence to use if the number given were "2". Two is an even number because each finger has a partner.

Repeat this several times, giving the students odd as well as even numbers. By always having a concrete visual (their fingers) will help the kinesthetic and visual learner to "see" the odds and evens.
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Activities such as this can be found in a math booklet entitled Number Tiles for The Primary Grades.  It contains 17 different math problem solving activities that extend from simple counting, to even and odd numbers, to greater than or less than to solving addition and subtraction problems.

Mathematics Tips for Parents for Those Long Summer Months


Success in school starts and continues at home, but many parents feel inadequate when it comes to helping their children with math. While parents can usually find time to read a story to their children, thereby instilling a love for books, they are often at a loss as to how to instill a love and appreciation for mathematics.  Like reading, mathematics is a subject that is indeed necessary for functioning adequately in society.  Here are some tips to help you as you work with your child this school year.

Recognize that you make an important difference in your child's education.   Most children develop a sense of numbers way before the "regular" school years.  If you have a young child, take advantage of those early years through activities at home that teach and at the same time are enjoyable.  You might take your child on a counting walk in your neighborhood to count how many trees, shrubs, plants, houses, birds, dogs, etc. you see.  Look for twigs or pine cones or leaves, etc. and have your child count as many as s/he can. Then lay them side by side to compare the length and ask your child, "Which is the longest, which is the shortest? Are there any that are the same length?"

Provide experiences at home that help your child be successful, and seek ways to let children, even very young children, know that they are needed and important.  Cooking is a fun way to do this. Help your child follow the directions on a Kool Aid packet or frozen juice can to make refreshments for the family.  Help your child cut a fruit or vegetable into halves, fourths, thirds, etc. Let them help prepare a meal while asking, "What do you do first? Second? Third?"  or better yet, allow them to measure the ingredients for a recipe.

Children do not need a lot of motivation when it comes to recognizing and learning the value of coins.  You know they are interested when they start bugging you for money.  However, it is not sufficient for children to be able to just recognize coins, they must also know the value of these coins.  The best way to accomplish this is to use real money.  You might show your child two or more coins and have him/her tell you the total value of the coins.  Or hold up a coin.  After your child identifies it, discuss what the coin would buy at the store.  When going to the grocery store, give your child his/her own money to buy something.  Have them select an item that costs less than the money you have given them.  You can also do a similar activity by asking them to determine what are the fewest number of coins it would take to pay for the item. Give your child a practical math experience by estimating how long it takes to prepare a meal from start to finish.

Parents' attitudes toward mathematics have an impact on children's attitudes; so, be patient with your child.  A wrong answer on a math test or a homework assignment is not a time for scolding.  It tells you to look further, to ask questions, and to find out what the wrong answer is saying about your child's understanding.  Ask your child to explain how they solved the problem.  Most importantly, relax!  Know that neither you nor the teacher needs to be perfect for your child to learn math.  Remember, one bad math assignment/test will not destroy your child's ability to learn math.

But what if you need some assistance?  Luckily, in today's world, we can find mathematical help at the click of a button.  Below are some great places to go and find outside help if your child is struggling or if you need more information for yourself.

Study Shack
is a great place to find or make flashcards, play hangman, do matching activities or crosswords.  It has activities for grades 1-6 as well as addition, multiplication, algebra and geometry.  Cliff's Notes for Math is site that has notes, examples and quizzes for your older children.  The subject areas include Basic Math through Calculus.  There are many on-line math dictionaries.  My favorite is A Math Dictionary for Kids because it includes animation and interactive activities.  Even You Tube is a great resource for students struggling with a concept and needing an alternative way of seeing it. 

Finally, talk about people who use math in their jobs, including builders, architects, engineers, computer professionals, and scientists. Point out that even if your child does not plan to pursue a career in which s/he will use math, learning it is still important because math teaches you how to solve problems and how to think logically. AND we use math everyday!
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Here is another resource that may prove useful. It is a ten page, comprehensive, extensive and wide-ranging list of over 200 hyperlinked Educational website addresses for all subjects.
  • Organized by a wide range of subject areas
  • Broken down into subcategories (i.e. science, then earth science, ecology, etc.)
  • Click on the URL and you are automatically taken to the site.

Different Ways to Write Tally Marks

Tally marks are the quickest way of keeping track of a group of five. One vertical line is made for each of the first four numbers; the fifth number is denoted by a diagonal line drawn across the previous four (i.e., from the top of the first line to the bottom of the fourth line). The diagonal fifth line cancels out the other four vertical lines making the entire set represent five.

Tally marks are also known as hash marks and can be defined in the unary numeral system. (A unary operation in a mathematical system is one element used to yield a single result, in this case a vertical line.) These marks are most useful in counting or tallying ongoing results, such as the score in a game or sport, as no intermediate results need to be erased or discarded. They also make it simple to add up the results by simply counting by 5’s. Here is an illustration of what I mean.

  • The value 1 is represented by | tally marks.
  • The value 2 is represented by | | tally marks.
  • The value 3 is represented by | | | tally marks.
  • The value 4 is denoted by |||| tally marks.
  • The value five is not denoted by | | | | | tally marks. For the number 5, draw four vertical lines (||||) with a diagonal (\) line through them.

I have seen many interesting ways to teach tally marks to younger children. Many teachers will use Popsicle sticks so that the students have a concrete hands-on way of making tally marks. Some have even tried pretzel sticks although there is a good chance some will disappear during the lesson. 

But have you ever seen these kind of tally marks?


My husband, who teaches science, received this data collection paper from a student. The students were tossing coins marked TT, Tt, and tt to determine different genetic traits and tallying the results. The ones seen above are Japanese tally marks. (The student lived in Japan.) I was fascinated about how they were made so I asked him to have this student show me the sequence of how to draw the marks.


I'm not sure what they mean or why they are made this way, but if you look at the 2nd mark you will notice that it looks like a "T" for two. The fourth mark sort of looks like an "F" for four, but so does the third one. As you can see, each complete character uses 5 strokes; so, a series of would each represent 5, just like the English ones. However, to be honest, I am at a total lost to what this really means; so, I resorted to the internet. Here is what I learned. 

Instead of lines, a certain Kanji character is used. In Japan, this mark reminds people of a sign for “masu” which was originally a square wooden box used to measure rice in Japan during the feudal period. Here is what the tally marks would look like if we compared the two systems.


The successive strokes of () are used in China, Japan and Korea to designate tallies in votes, scores, points, sushi orders, and the like, much as is used in Europe, Africa, Australia and North America. Tallies beyond five are written like this  with a line drawn underneath each group of five, followed by the remainder. For example, a tally of twelve is written as 正正丅. 

So the next time your visit Japan or go to a Japenese restaurant to order Sushi, look for the tally marks as the waiter takes your order.