How parents can inspire their children to like maths
This Monday, I run into a friend whose children are in the American School. One of the things we talked about is how her daughter (who is 8 yrs old) does not have to study time-tables or sit timed tests. The school focuses rather on maths fluency.
That got me curious. Why the systems are different and which one works better?
I looked at PISA report, a research that measures the mathematical literacy of a 15 year-old to formulate, employ and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts.
That shows that UK system overall does not produce the best maths results but it did not give me the answers I was looking for - what works and what does not and why?
Reading various articles and glancing through the books, I found a great one by Jo Boaler, The Elephant in the Classroom: Helping Children Learn and Love Maths.
The book explains (supported by research) why current educational system in the UK (and most of the US) is counterproductive in learning maths. Two things that shocked me most were:
a. Speedy tests (like time-tables) and constant assessments do not lead to the higher maths attainment or knowledge;
b. Putting children into the sets by abilities is harmful for both pupils who need more time to develop (as they are less challenged) or advanced mathematicians (as working in teams where one has to explain the thinking strengthens his/her own understanding). A scary fact is that schools are now deciding which children can and can not do maths when they are only 4 years old and 88% of them stay at the same set until they leave school.
However, as a parent, it is not my job (or expertise) to change the school system. But it is in my power to support my children in their relationship with maths at home.
Looking at the work of Jo Boaler and other sources, these are the practical steps I am taking at home with my children:
Step 1: Understand yourself and explain to your child what the maths is about.
Usual maths class is about getting correct answers through memorising (like time-tables or formulas) and getting high marks on the tests. However, the real maths is about being quantitatively literate, thinking flexibly and creatively to solve problems and develop ideas.
Step 2: Remove the maths anxiety at home.
Putting time pressure when doing maths often can create unnecessary anxiety in children (which happened at home with my 8 yrs old). School does enough of times tests. Now I focus on developing my children’s thinking process and applying strategies to get the right answer rather than on speed.
Step 3: Expose your child to the right maths problems.
What value do I add by drilling multiplication tables or fraction speedy tests with my kids at home? Longer-term - none. So instead I am using now number talks (explained below), puzzles and games. It is important to keep these activities fun and not to turn them into another homework session.
· Number talks – when you ask your child to think about different strategies to make mental calculations, e.g. how many ways is to calculated 18*5 such as 18*10/2 or 20*5-2*5, etc. For inspiration with additions, multiplications, divisions and fractions, have a look at Making Number Talks Matter.
· Puzzles – those are great to learn that the struggle can be actually enjoyable. There are a lot of wonderful free online resources (such as here) as well as books (such as The Amazing Mathematical Amusements Arcade by Brian Bolt).
· Games – starting from building block to boost 3D awareness with pre-school children, sorting and comparing shapes, objects, etc to different Tangram or Jigsaw puzzles.
Step 4: If your child struggles to grasp a particular concept taught at school, find a better way to explain in – do not just memorise and drill.
I love the book by Ed Southall, Yes, but Why? Teaching for understanding in mathematics. It makes a lot of maths concepts much easier for the child to understand. Also if you are (like me) coming from a different school system, there is Paul Forte Maths Notebook which will help you to see how your child is taught in school so you will use the same vocabulary.
Step 5: Teach your child how to approach difficult questions.
I always give away too much explanation when my children ask me to help with a maths question. Jo Boaler has a lot of useful tips on how to teach your child to work through questions.
Make suggestion to your child to draw or to use a graph or physical objects to visualise the questions. Ask your child to talk about the question and possible ways to solve it out-loud. The question becomes more approachable when it is talked through. Remember not to rush and not to ridicule your child’s mistakes.
I hope you find those suggestions useful and do share with me your ways to make maths more fun for your children.