My career has taken me from Classroom Teacher to Instructional Consultant to Vice Principal to my current position as the Acting Coordinator of Mathematics. Throughout this journey I have had many opportunities to talk with parents about learning. By far the most common question that I get asked during these conversations is “How can I help my child succeed in mathematics?”. There are so many possible answers to this one question. So much so that I can not cover them all in one blog post. So given the plethora of possibilities I have decided to create a series of posts that highlight some of the things that I have done or currently do with my own kids age 7, 11 and 14. I am going to share with you my efforts, as a parent, to create the conditions for my children to succeed in mathematics. These possibilities are not intended to be a checklist of everything you should do but rather suggestions of what you could do.
I am going to start with what I believe the most important thing you can do… Value Math. As with most things your child takes their cues from you. Their beliefs, values, attitudes are often your beliefs, values and attitudes. If you think something is important so will they. As a teacher, I would inwardly groan every time I heard a parent say “It’s okay that my child is not good at math…I wasn’t”. This message instantly devalues mathematics and lets your child know that they can devalue it too. By devaluing mathematics it creates a constant struggle between the teacher and your child every time they engage in learning mathematics. My number one recommendation would be to not create this battle. Instead, let your child know that you value math.
With my kids I constantly reinforce 5 key messages about valuing mathematics.
- Math is Important– I think math is important in the world and I let my kids know it every chance I get. When I see math, I point it out. I talk to my kids about future career opportunities for them and what math they require to make that happen. I share with them how I use math to manage our household, where I use it in my career, and where it exists in the careers of others. My children know that math opens opportunities for them, and that they need it to be an engaged and informed citizens.
- Math is Fun– Math can be fun. I am constantly looking for ways to “play” with mathematics. I want my children to want to engage in mathematics and like everything, if it is fun they want to do it. I look for mathematics games, puzzles, and challenges they can do by themselves, or that we can do together. Our closet is full of games that build mathematical understanding and are fun.
- Math is Hard (sometimes)– My kids need to understand that sometimes math is challenging and in these cases persistence is necessary. I expect my children to face these challenges with a positive attitude and determination. I am always there to help them when needed but my job is not to rescue them. When my kids hit a question that is challenging I let them struggle. Yep I said it…I LET THEM STRUGGLE. Instead of sweeping in with the answer I choose to stand back and just offer encouragement. You can do this!! I believe in you!! Do the best you can!! I am so proud of you for not quitting! Look back to see if you can find a similar problem. How do you think you should do it? This standing back is sometimes hard to do but trust me… the empowerment they feel when they figure it out on their own is so worth it. They learn the math, but more importantly they learn that they are capable of meeting challenges and that persistence is necessary. This does not mean that I never help them. Sometimes, after what I feel is an appropriate amount of struggle I do step in. My goal is not to never help them. Instead, my goal is to build their persistence and their confidence in themselves first.
- Math is Problem Solving– Math is more than just computation. Math is about encountering a problem and then using mathematical thinking to figure it out. I often place problems in front of my kids and ask them for their advice. These aren’t problems that are written on paper about two trains leaving a station… or other things you may see in textbooks. Instead these are problems that I encounter in life. For example, the other day I needed to drive my 7-year-old daughter to her hockey practice, and I had to figure out when to leave the house. The easy thing would have been to just figure it out on my own but instead I saw this as an opportunity to problem solve with my kids. I called my 7-year-old and 11-year-old over and asked them what time we should leave. Because this wasn’t our first ever attempt at problem solving they very quickly identified 3 pieces of information they needed… how long would it take to drive to the rink, how early do we wanted to be there, and what time the practice began. Once they had the information they worked together to find a solution. The best part was that we could actually use their solution and get authentic feedback on if their solution worked. We arrived on time, but more importantly my kids learned that math was alive and relevant!!
- Math is Reasoning– Math is about thinking logically and making sense of situations. By looking for opportunities to allow my kids to engage in mathematical experiences in and out of our home I am trying to enhance their ability to reason. My kids know that math is more than finding a number to an equation…it is about thinking. When I look for mathematical opportunities I am really looking for opportunities for them to think…with me, with others and most importantly for themselves. My every day example has been with providing them with the choice of deciding what to wear for the day. My kids have learned to choose their clothing based on the weather conditions of the day. I share with them the forecast each day, along with the current conditions. Then I ask the question “What would be the best choice in clothing for today?” When they were little I would often use words like cold, hot or warm to describe the temperature. I also talked about the appropriate clothing for cold, hot, and warm weather. Now all I do is give them the forecast and let them make their choices. With my seven-year old I still sometimes veto the choices but for the most part she is expertly reasoning her way through the possibilities with the information she has been given.
Valuing math is so very important to helping your child succeed. I really do believe it is the most important of three suggestions I can give parents. My other two suggestions would be to Talk Math and to Play Math with your child. Over the coming weeks I will continue to expand on these three ideas and share suggestions on this blog and on Twitter. So be on the look out for ideas to #TalkMath, #PlayMath, and #ValueMath.