In order to add this series of numbers, I must line up the numbers by the decimal and add final zeros to make sure I have done it correctly.





+ 0.909090


Adding the ending zeros not only helps students to line up the problem correctly, but it also helps to arrange the numbers in order from least to greatest. I tell my students to always think of decimals as money. Because they are experienced with decimals in money, this analogy helps them to see things more clearly. This is how I would phrase it: “Wouldn’t you rather have the most change? The largest number in this sequence (.909090) represents about 90 cents. Or would you rather have the smallest number in this sequence (.009000), which represents about 0 cents?” Point out the first two digits, and things will begin to become clear.

Now, let us return to our original question. Can you put these numbers in order from least to greatest?

Answer:  .000999      .009000         .090110                 .090900                  .909090

These concepts are taught well in Saxon and other popular math texts in the lesson section. Unfortunately, we tend to think the symbolic problems are the most important part of the book and race to complete the problems. Math success results more from thinking about the technical math terms and mathematical laws than it does from writing down numbers. We need to use more precise words and have more conversations about math than we do. One excellent resource for thinking about the fundamental concepts of math is Understanding Mathematics: From Counting to Calculus by Keith I. Kressin.

Keep in mind that Americans—homeschooled students included—have performed poorly in math. This should inspire us to work hard at math every day. As you work on math with your children, use lots of words but also do lots of problems. A focused hour a day on math using the principles above will ensure that your children are prepared for higher levels of math.

Leigh A. Bortins is author of the recently published book The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education. In addition, Ms. Bortins is the founder and CEO of Classical Conversations, Inc.and host of the weekly radio show, Leigh! At Lunch. She lectures about the importance of home education nationwide. She lives with her family in West End, North Carolina. To learn more, visit her website,, or her blog 

Publication Date: June 22, 2012