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Math Opens Doors...And It's Fun Too!

Who needs math?

Everybody needs good mathematics skills. We use math when we cook, shop, or measure a space for a rug. We need math to understand taxes and health costs. We need math in most jobs.

Everybody can learn math with support, encouragement, good materials, and instruction. But math also can be taught in a way that is fun!

Young children are natural mathematicians! They love questions, patterns, sizes, shapes, and colors. They know what "more" means and what happens to the amount of something if they have to share.

During their school years, many children may lose some of the interest in math that they had when they were younger. There are many possible reasons for this, everything from peer pressure to boring and repetitious work sheets. Many students don't see why math will make a difference in their lives. Parents can help their children understand the importance of math for the future and make sure that their children are in a math program that keeps their interest alive.

Here are some signs of good math programs in or out of school that parents can look for:

1. Good programs build students' confidence that they can succeed in mathematics.

Teachers send the message that students can succeed. With support, encouragement, good materials, and instruction, all children can develop confidence in their own mathematical ability.

2. All students have access to a challenging curriculum and are placed in classes with students of mixed abilities.

Grouping or tracking often results in some groups of students achieving at a high level while other groups slow down, get discouraged, and drop out of math. Parents should insist their children have the same opportunity for learning mathematics as all other students.

Families and counselors can push students to take advanced math courses an be sure students know the requirements for college so they can take the courses to meet them. Algebra is an important course for making college or technical school an option.

3. Students learn that math is valued and used in everyday life.

Math skills are valuable tools like reading and writing. Children can learn how math is used in cooking, riding the subway or bus, shopping, or planning a trip. The supermarket is a great lab! Math is used when you go out to eat, get change at the video store, or plan for saving and spending. Math is used in the results of pools to inform or persuade.

When school math and family experiences are linked, students are more interested and are willing to work hard on complex problems. Students learn that problems may have more than one solution.

4. Math is active.

Math is much more than work sheets and memorization of addition facts (2 + 2) and multiplication tables (4 x 4). Children should learn how to predict and estimate. They need time for discovering that there is often more than one way to find an answer.

In the elementary grades, math activities should include working with real materials such as buttons, counting rods, leaves, coins, paper clips, etc. It is harder than we might think to understand that a "2" stands for two of something, maybe shirts or dimes or towers or bricks. Interest in math and self confidence can be developed by using numbers in games, in conversations, in questions.

5. Students do problem-solving.

We used to think that children had to know all their numbers facts before they could work on more complicated problems. But most children can problem-solve whether or not they have mastered all their facts and tables. In fact, interesting problems often keep children liking math even when learning number facts is hard.

For example, early elementary students can choose a question such as "How many people are in your household?" or "What is your favorite kind of pizza?" and collect data by interviewing their classmates, friends or family. They can then report the results of their survey by making a graph that they use to report their study.

Middle school students can solve harder problems. The children in Ms. F's class wanted to find out how many ways they could get from home to school and how long each way took. They measured distance and time by walking to school, riding the subway or public bus, and going in a car pool or school bus. In teams, they reported the pros and cons of using different methods of transportation. They decided that walking to school was fastest and cheapest and the best exercise, but the bus was the best idea because it was the safest.

6. Students work in groups to solve problems.

Students learn more problem-solving math when they work in groups and can talk through their ideas with each other. When they explain, teach, argue, or report, this helps them really understand. They benefit from seeing several solutions and from conversing in the language of math. Employers expect their employees to be able to solve problems and to work with others in finding solutions.

The 4th grade was building a cage for its new guinea pig. The students had to measure the space where the cage would go and plan how much wood and wire to order. Then they shopped for the best bargain.

7. Students use math in all areas of the curriculum.

Think of the many different ways math can be part of the geography, science, music, art, stories, or drama. When students experience math in all areas of learning, they become comfortable with numbers and see ways math is useful.

8. The math program uses more than one approach.

Learning mathematics comes pretty easy to some. But most people have to work at understanding at some time or other. There is more than one way to reach understanding of mathematics. Group problem-solving, using computers, one-on-one talking, using "hands-on" materials are some examples of approaches.

Once you learn to recognize a good math program, you can also

  • communicate the importance of math by expecting all children to take math and knowing the requirements for college and jobs;
  • use math at home or join a Family Math program;
  • use the checklist above to find out what is happening at school;
  • ask for a better program if you are not satisfied with what you find;
  • organize a group of parents to demand better math programs;
  • learn what community resources there are for after-school or summer math programs.

Last Modified: 2007-09-21 at 12:09:01 -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation