Do you ever say to your child, “I wasn’t good at math, either,” followed by “I’m more of a English (or other topic) person.”
Pardon the caps while I write, “STOP SAYING THAT!”
I know you’re probably trying to show sympathy as your child puzzles through math homework. Or trying to be honest. Or sharing that they’re not alone. Or trying to show that you, an important adult in their life, confronted challenges just as they are doing.
Today, we know more about math learning and the kind of encouragement that helps children:
“I know you’re doing your best.”
“Did you call one of your friends (or five or six of them) for help?
“I’ll listen while you read the directions aloud.”
“What does Mrs.—want you to do when you’re stuck?”
Also, if you are able to take apart a problem and help your child understand it, by all means do so. That can be a great strategy if you are able to teach them, not tell them.
Finally, tell your child to ask the teacher what to do the next time they need help with math homework. We parents want our children to feel confident about asking for help whenever they need it.
Did you know that you have a math lab in your home? It’s called the kitchen and is a perfect place for you to practice estimation and measurement with kids.
Whether you are a cook who uses exact measurements, or one who uses handfuls and pinches, help them to learn.
A bag of salad feeds about how many people? How many gallons, half gallons, pints, or cups of milk do you drink in a day? Monitor the grams of protein in food and estimate how many you eat.
More specifically, how many teaspoons in a tablespoon? How many tablespoons of butter in a half cup? You get the idea.
I know when families get home after a long day and dinner needs to get on the table fast, it seems impossible to let children help. Especially when you can do chicken nuggets, a salad, and couscous in seconds! But when you’re aware of the possibilities present, you can take advantage of them.
In math, learning measurement and estimation needs practice right through childhood–and perhaps beyond. That’s because in many schools, there simply isn’t enough time to find, collect and use all the tools necessary for the hands-on learning that kids need. Parents need to backfill learning math at home.
What are some other places at home to practice learning math?
Who doesn’t love to guess the weight of a pumpkin? It’s a wonderful Halloween math game for your children–and you!
We know that the best mathematics for kids is fun and engaging. Math is a developmental subject, which means that brain growth continues throughout childhood. Enriched experience and mixing lots of math practice into life helps children become more capable and confident mathematicians.
In October Halloween math opportunities abound. How many apples in a bag? How many mini pumpkins in a pound? Are there tens or hundreds of seeds inside a pumpkin?
Think about ways to practice Halloween mathematics with kids at home, in the car, or at a fair. Below, enjoy this video of winners at the Topsfield (MA) Fair Giant Pumpkin Contest, courtesy of The Boston Globe.
Maybe there isn’t a lot of science in your child’s school, or science materials, or time to teach science.
The solution? Stop and look at the sky. It’s elementary science – on the ground, out the window, or in a car.
Identify clouds by name, as well as colors, shapes, wind direction, and the horizon. Have your child look up what they don’t know. Play the what-do-you-see-in-the-clouds game to build the imagination.
What time of day is this and how do you know? What do the colors and shapes tell you? Where do you see evidence of patterns and why? If this were a scene in a movie, what do you imagine would be happening?
These are simple but profound concepts. A lesson on a shoestring? Not quite. In a brief conversation, you’ve taught a child to use facts, research skills, curiosity, imagination, reasoning, math, and science to explain their world.
That’s how we turn elementary science into nature’s poetry.
Your two granddaughters come to visit while their mother copes with a new baby. Every morning, you pour mountainous bowls of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes for each one before they come downstairs.
You set out spoons and the yellow milk pitcher. You have firm ideas about the propriety of leaving the cereal box on the table, so you put it back in the cabinet.
Years ago, I was one of those little girls and severely disappointed. Why?
Because I’d been deprived of one of life’s pleasures–reading the cereal box while eating.
Have you noticed how we all read cereal boxes over and over? It’s entertainment and learning, something today’s grandparents love to provide.
Lots of preschoolers can read plenty on the box because they recognize the logo, colors, shapes, and easy words. Older grandchild will notice the kayaking and Kellogg’s free cruise contest. Why not help them enter?
The nutrition information alone is full of math and science possibilities—percentages, measurement, minerals, vitamins—and you can practice Spanish and English at the same time.
On the back of the box, there’s a message just for you. “Discover the possibilities” the next time you serve a bowl of corn flakes.
When I heard that today was National Fudge Day, I dug out my grandmother’s recipe book to find “Fudge Without Cooking.” Grammy reused and recycled many things, including two pieces of plywood from her friend Mrs. Bagelmann’s husband, a pharmacist. Inside, she handwrote, typed, or taped recipes on stiff manila cardboard pages.
Following a fudge recipe with children creates the perfect opportunity for practicing math skills. It’s a great way for students to help build confidence using math. Recipes involve other skills, too, like reading, comprehension, vocabulary, planning strategies to solve problems, thinking, rethinking, timing, and lots of measurement and estimation.
Plus, it’s fun to hear students hypothesize about why a potato is in the fudge.
Approach using this recipe any way you wish. I’d probably provide the ingredients, tools, and a microwave and tell a small group of students that I had faith in their ability to figure it out. Then, I’d assess them along the way.
For others who prefer to take it step by step, consider this approach:
1. Students read the recipe. Ask “What ingredients do you need and how much of each? What is your plan to obtain them?”
2. Student read the list of ingredients. Ask “What units of measurement are used in this recipe? What tools will you need? How is unsweetened chocolate different from a candy bar? How many potatoes do you estimate make 1/3 cup?”
3. Students explain the tasks that the verbs indicate, including if they need tools to complete them. Ask them about melt, blend, mix, sift, add, knead, turn out, press.
(I encourage teachers, parents, or grandparents to let the child talk more than you do. It’s easy to jump in and tell the answer, but don’t. The best hands-on learning lets students discover on their own.)
Continue and release the responsibilities as much as you can. Click on the recipe to enlarge it.
This recipe was originally printed in Parade magazine, in 1971 or 1972. The Parade Food Editor was Beth Merriman and the photo was by Walter Strelnick.
An article in yesterday’s Boston Globe about homework caught my eye. Its subtitle is “Should parents nag, assist, or [let kids do it…]?”
I once ran an after-school homework club for students. It began with a snack and fun conversation between the students and the volunteers who staffed it. The environment was quiet but not silent. All the tools students needed were in reach. Volunteers circulated to answer questions and provide help when needed. If students finished early, they read. Then everyone played outside until their rides arrived.
Students went home happy and with the bulk of their homework complete.
Parents loved the homework club because it helped them understand the essentials of getting homework done–through conversations with me and a newsletter I sent home. Snack. Relax. A quiet environment. Tools and help available. The student does the work. Read and play.
Some commonly asked questions I received follow:
What if the homework is too hard? Let the student do as much as possible alone. Then help, but remember that helping is assisting, not doing.
What if the homework is boring? Ask the teacher about the rationale for it. Request a challenging twist for your child if you think he needs more.
What if the homework is repetitive, like packets of worksheets? Ask the teacher why they are assigned. Sometimes we parents learn that they are assignments that the student didn’t finish in school. But homework should not be make-work, punishment, or mind-numbing for students. If it is, discuss this with the teacher. It’s okay to ask the teacher for modifications that help your child to love learning.
What if the homework consists of test prep? Research shows that this kind of cramming test prep does little to raise scores, although it may help students with some types of questions. If a school’s curricula is well-designed, properly resourced, and aligned to the Common Core or your state’s curriculum frameworks, there is no need for burdensome test prep.
Our daily conversations are full of fractions and estimation:
I’m half way there…The project is 75% complete…About a quarter of a piece
That’s why it’s important to thread these skills into teaching whenever possible. And since this Friday, May 15, is National Pizza Party Day, pull out all the stops!
Remember math worksheets with pictures of pizza showing how ¼ + ¼ = ½ ? Without a visual, it’s hard for some students to understand that when they add fractions, the piece gets bigger but the denominators get smaller.
This isn’t just for young children, either. I’ve known many students who needed the help of visuals and manipulatives right into high school. Providing these aids is not babyish, nor is it some kind of crutch, nor should it be shaming. Knowing that you need tools to help solve a problem is smart.
When you have a pizza party math lesson, it’s an interdisciplinary feast! Allow students to make the dough and choose their own combinations and amounts of toppings.
Next, students write out the recipe using fractions and demonstrate making their pizza, explaining their math along the way. You might even have a taste testing to choose the most delicious variations.
There you have it. Common Core math and English language arts, plus a built-in assessment.
The only bad thing about being an organist is that you can’t take the King of Instruments with you. No cases, gig bags, or covers exist: you must travel to the instrument. That means you are in church a lot to practice, perform, or even to go on organ crawls.
Organ crawls are tours through the insides of pipe organs to see how they work and to appreciate each instrument’s unique beauty. I learned to play on a tracker (meaning mechanical note action, as opposed to electronic) organ, the kind featured in organ crawls.
Going inside this organ was like going inside a unique house. Built in 1889 by Woodbury and Harris (not pictured), the organ had a huge, old-fashioned bellows that had since been electrified.
One day the power went out during a service, so a tenor ran inside the organ to hand pump the bellows as I played. Otherwise, there’d have been no air and no sound.
Science, technology, engineering, math teachers, unite! Get with the art and music teachers and take your students on an organ crawl—a free field trip that you can walk to if you’re lucky.
Our Boston Marathon is a glorious celebration every Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts.
Although I’m not a runner, the Boston Marathon has always been a rite of spring. In childhood, my father and I watched runners on Rt. 135, across the street from Tasty Treat in Ashland. I played the national anthem at the start as a member of the Hopkinton High School marching band. My family has hosted runners. Last year my father, a 90-year-old World War II vet, was honored at the starting line.
The Boston Marathon offers a spectacular teaching and learning opportunity for every teacher. You can practically invent a unit on the spot, both high interest and Common Core compliant.
Length, time, world and course records are just the beginning of the mathematics embedded in it. Runners’ compelling stories make excellent writing topics; an entire section of The Boston Globe pulls a unit together with reading articles, graphs, maps, and charts.
Runners arrive from all over the world, an excellent geography lesson. The Marathon’s history is rich in tradition, both Olympic and Boston. However, when we teach history to students, the darker stories are part of an honest picture.
What makes people cheat? In 1980, Rosie Ruiz jumped in near the finish and was initially claimed the winner.
Why were women excluded from Boston Marathon until 1972? Jock Semple tried to physically push Katherine Switzer out of the race.
Why did the Tsarnaev brothers plant two bombs that killed 3 and injured over 260? This event still feels acutely fresh to us Bostonians, who have been watching the current trial.
A moment of silence occurs at 2:49 p.m. today, “One Boston Day,” observing the second anniversary of that event.