Math teaching in this country has become atrocious. Somehow a culture of thinking math problems come in clean, neat, drill and kill form is mastery. Math comes to us in real life in words, and images. It is messy. Creative and critical thinking skills that come in simulations and games teach children how to solve real world problems. In most cases, no one right answer exists. Instead, an array of answers exist each with positive and negative aspects. Depending on the needs of the time determines which answer could solve the problem.
Because of the number of students, over emphasis of multiple choice testing, numerous laws, and time constraints math is not best taught in schools. The living proof is go to any college class and when a teacher presents a real world problem like how to take one size larger paper and calculate how to third it, watch students squirm or go silent. These students passed all the state tests given; certified that they have the skills to do such a problem in their head, and it is rare to find someone who can. Adults shiver in fear when they have to take math classes at the college level for the most part. Occasionally, a student has number sense of application, but a short conversation will show the student had an adult in their life who developed their math sense or an unusual teacher who bucked the system and taught math at the application level in compelling ways. These students are never afraid of a complex problem because they know it is solvable.
Until school systems stop blaming students for failing math scores, and the culture stops seeing math as an impossible subject to learn this travesty will continue. Math and science are creating most of the new jobs. Other countries are willing to teach math in a way that develops application level skills. What can a parent do to make their child have great number sense?
Cooking together is a fabulous way for children to learn application level math and science. Cooking is chemistry. Mixing of ingredients shows the changes in substances in states of matter. Recipes have proportions and proportional reasoning. According to math research place value, number sense and proportional reasoning are foundational thinking skills necessary for application level math. Talking to your child about each ingredient, what happens when it mixes together, and interpreting a recipe lets a child develop real math abilities. Do not be afraid to experiment to see how changing proportions or ingredients change results. Eating a cookie as the finished product has much more impact than any multiple choice item on any test.
Remodeling your home? Let your child help. Simple items such as measuring the floor and laying down tiles then explained to children lays the foundation for geometric and algebraic skills. Even if, you personally are not doing the work, most contractors are more than happy to explain how they build or remodel. The language they use is practical math language. No remodeling? A parent can buy kits of woodworking, foam, or painting a picture, etc. All of those use math in practical ways. Then when children become exposed to standard forms of math in testing formats they will have a schema that new knowledge can attach.
Maintaining material items in a residence is a constant and often takes creative skills to fix. Include your children in the discussion of how to fix and use some of their ideas. Keep broken toys or items and let children see if they can make something useful or creative with it. Of course, garage sales and flea markets are plentiful and items can be bought cheaply.
Simulations of real life problems and events which are full of math let children experience a high level of critical thinking skills in a fun way. Simulation games show outcomes. A child playing a simulation over and over again sees the result of each decision without a red pen or the thought of failure stopping them from discovering the differing results. If one has any doubt about this type of teaching, knowing this is the number one skill engineers develop to do their jobs. Engineers apply mathematics at high levels since it is a tool used for their creations or the solving of complex problems. Better yet, an adult playing the game along with the child, and having conversations about the math is the best teaching of all.
A parent being aware of how important they are to the teaching of math is the best solution to solving our nation’s math deficit. A parent can become confident knowing how easy it can be. While planning your ordinary life activities, plan a few application math sessions and watch your child blossom.
Information courtesy of Mary Page, a retired District Elementary Math Specialist for GCCISD, Baytown, Texas who also was an elementary math facilitator for 8 years teaching at risk students at Ashbel Smith Elementary with a 90% poverty rate successfully.
Noelle Eberts has a passion for connecting children to the possibilities that math can unlock. She writes independently for www.mathnook.com and is a great resource for all kinds of kid’s math games. Noelle is a part-time math tutor and a full-time Mom!