Latest research on math; how you can help your students

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee member

As our children explore and discover their environment, they are exposed to the world of math! Mathematics has become increasingly important in this age of technology. Children need a strong background in math. It’s essential that the school and the home work together to strengthen our children’s ability to understand and apply math in their everyday lives. Many school systems are paying attention to improving early-grades math curriculum instruction, for there is mounting research showing that boosting students’ confidence and effort in math can increase achievement.

For children to compete in the 21’st century global economy, knowledge in math is critical. Today’s high school graduates need to have a solid math background, whether they are headed to college or the workforce. To help ensure our nation’s future competitiveness in the global market, our country created a National Mathematics Advisory Panel in 2006. A year ago in March, this panel made a number of recommendations on topics, including curricular content, learning processes, assessments and future research priorities. For a complete report, visit www.ed.gov/mathpanel or call 1-877-433-7827.

The panel suggested that before children start school, they need many opportunities to explore numbers (their size and meaning), shapes and basic measurements. During elementary years (kindergarten to grade 4), children need to be proficient with whole numbers, counting, place value, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, and be able to solve problems involving perimeter and area of two-dimensional shapes.

In grades 5-7 students should be proficient with fractions, decimals and percents. They need to be able to compare fractions, relate fractions, understand decimals and be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide with fractions and decimals. Students should also be able to solve problems involving surface area and volume of three-dimensional shapes.

The panel also recommended that in grade eight, students should be prepared for higher level mathematics, including course work in algebra. They also found that proficiency with whole numbers, fractions and certain aspects of geometry and measurements are the critical foundation of algebra. Furthermore, the panel stated that knowledge of fractions is the most important foundational skill not currently developed among American students.

Does your child have immediate recall of math facts? In other words, does he know the basics – add, subtract, multiply and divide? Students need to develop immediate recall of math facts to free the “working memory” for solving more complex problems, according the math panel.

It is generally expected students in grades 4-8 know the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts, as well as whole number computation. If your children are not proficient with these skills, help them master the needed skills. Please work on the basics and use mental math in the car (like: ask questions 9×7) and before bed time and before dinner. Use flash cards (make flash cards with index cards or with paper). Most importantly, do it as a game and be creative!

Parents do play a key role in helping their child acquire the needed assistance in their math. A focus on the importance of effort will improve outcomes. If children believe their efforts to learn make them smarter, their confidence and their performance will improve. Schools need to reach out to parents by providing workshops for them to learn how to help their children at home.
Parents need to point out to their child that math is everywhere. Yet many children don’t see it. Look for ways to point out and reinforce math skills at home. For example:

Help children see that math is very much a part of everyday life. From statistics in sports to the sale price of clothing, from the calories in food to the amount of gas needed to travel from one city to another, math is important to us every day. Help your child make these connections to math.

Point out that many jobs require math. From the scientist to the doctor, from the plant manager to the newspaper salesman, from the computer programmer to the hardware store owner, many jobs require a strong foundation in math. Help your child see that math leads to many exciting career opportunities

Play games that help children develop decision making and mental math skills. There are many games sold commercially, such as board games, that involve patterns and probability. Play games from your own family traditions, such as counting games and games that keep score. Try schoolyard games such as jump rope, hopscotch and jacks. Games require children to use strategies to make decisions, solve problems and develop an understanding about numbers and how to use them (number sense) and computational skills.

Positive attitudes about math will reinforce encouragement. Your feelings will have an impact on how your children think about math and themselves as mathematicians. Positive attitudes about math are important in encouraging your child to think mathematically. I remember many parents saying to me: Well, I wasn’t good in math, so that’s why my child is having trouble. Remember, a positive attitude goes a long way in life. So do all that you can to help your child, and be sure to work with the classroom teacher.

In regard to helping a teenager, remember learning math is a sequential process. Therefore, it is very important to figure out when your teens started having trouble, and go back to help them master concepts that should have been learned earlier before proceeding to the next level. In addition to what has already been stated, examine the following recommendations:
• First meet with your child’s teacher to find out where they are in their math skills. Also, find out what they are learning now and what you can do to assist.

• If you have a computer, there is lots of help, for all you need to do is get on the Internet and type in math help. There, you’ll find several websites with many worksheets, ideas to try at home and assistance on a number of math concepts. I’m amazed at the assistance one can find on the Internet on helping your child do well in math. Please check out the Internet for ideas and help.

• In your child’s math book there may be a test at the end of each chapter. Have your teen do each test, and see if there are weaknesses in certain math areas.

• Ask your teen to read the instruction that explains a certain math skill and have him/her try to figure it out independently. You may want to encourage your teen to use a problem that has an answer at the back of the book. It is good for them to learn how to teach themselves when having trouble. You should only help if they are completely stumped.

• REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW! Even though your teen may seem to have mastered a skill, it is very important to go back and review periodically.

• In the summer, get help so that the “summer slide” doesn’t take place. If students don’t review their math skills, they lose at least six months of academic growth. Ask the school for advice on what you can do to keep up math skills during vacation time.

No one ever said that parenting was easy. So as important as it is to read to your child don’t neglect math. Look for everyday opportunities to bring math into focus. Another idea is the grocery store, for it is one the best examples of a place where math is real. It’s a great place for practicing measurement, estimation and quantity. Allowing your children to participate in weighting, counting and figuring price per unit versus price per pound will help improve their ability to estimate and predict amounts with accuracy. With younger children, involve the children in predicting how much milk or juice will be needed for a week. You might decide to estimate by cups, explaining that four cups are equal to a quart and four quarts are equal to a gallon. Another idea is to give your children the section of the newspaper with the grocery ads. Have them make up a list of the foods that will feed the family for a week and also meet a budget of a certain amount of money. Have them make a chart and use mental math or a calculator to figure the cost of a few items. If the total is more than the budget, talk about which items can be eliminated. Also, go to other ads and see if another market has better prices.
Parents, just use your imagination and think about ways of bringing the world of math into your child’s life! Math is an important skill and one that our children need to master. When parents show their young children math using real toys and food and to add and subtract, they are showing their children the world is logical. Remember, it’s simply fun to show your child how numbers work as you play together, and the bonus to his/her self-esteem won’t hurt either!
Parents, I’d love to hear from you! Call me at 508 853-3444 or e-mail me at J1principal@excite.com or write to InCity Times with your thoughts, frustrations and suggestions.

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