The teaching of Mathematics has changed significantly over the past 20 years. No longer are we focusing on ensuring children learn processes but ensuring that children understand concepts and have a variety of strategies to solve mathematical problems.
It can be quite difficult for parents during Math homework time as the problem solving methods that they were taught are very different to how their children are being taught.
Below is a list of 10 ideas that parents can use to help teach Mathematics to their child.
1. Always have maths equipment at home that is easily accessible
Children need to participate in real world mathematics. This means Mathematics is part of every day life and children need to engage with it in order to be a successful person in our society. It is important to have rulers, scales, measuring cups, tape measures and calculators at home to enable children to use them when they need it. Children need to see adults and help adults when using mathematical equipment as well. This could include, helping to cook by measuring ingredients or helping to use a measuring tape to see how long something is in the home.
2. Use Mathematical Language in your everyday conversation.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of using the same words to describe many things. A classic example of this is the word “big”. Using big to describe the height of something or the length of something or the weight of something or the volume of something does not give the child enough exposure to mathematical language. Adults could use words like “tall” or “high” to describe height, “long” or “short” to describe length and “heavy” or “light” to describe weight. It is important that we use to the correct language to help our children form the right understandings about these mathematical concepts.
3. Give your child time to answer a question
As parents and educators, our main role in educating our children is to facilitate learning not to determine what a child will learn and how a child should learn. Children need time to process questions and process what they need to do in order to solve a task. They need to go through a few steps (even though it may not be the most efficient strategy) it is important to give them time. If we always rush in to “help”, the child will always come to expect this and not try to use any strategies that they do have. If your child comes to you with a question, try and think of another question to ask them that will guide them to the answer. For example, if a child asks you what is 33 + 99, you could ask them if they know what 99 is close to. Then encourage them to go back and think about that and see if they can come up with anything.
4. Always ask how they got to an answer
We may be elated to see that a child has solved a question correctly but getting the correct answer does not really give the teacher or parent much information about their mathematical thinking around a particular concept. We must always ask the child to explain how they solved it. If they can explain their strategy and tell you why they did it, it will prove that they have a very solid understanding about that concept. For example if the student solved the above addition task by saying 132 it shows that they have an understanding of addition. But what level of understanding do they have? Asking them to explain how they got to their answer will shed more light onto this. For example if they said “I drew 99 lines and added another 33 lines and then counted them all”, this shows a very low level strategy to solve an addition problem. If they said “I added 9 and 3 and that was 12, then I put the 2 down and put the 1 near the 9 and then added 9, 1 and 3 which was 13. I then wrote 13 next to the 2 which gave me 132.”, it shows that they have learnt the process of pen and paper trading, but they do not have a good understanding of why they are doing this process. If they said “99 is close to 100 so I just added 100 and 32, because I took away 1 from 33 so I could make it 100”, this shows a very high level strategy that is efficient and shows a solid foundation. Yes they all got it correct but their problem solving strategies explain a lot about the child’s level of understanding.
Thinking about the information above, it is obvious why worksheets (drill and practice) do not help a child understand a concept. Worksheets and mathematical text books are all about practising processes over and over again until it becomes second nature. Worksheets do not allow conversation about how they solved a problem as it is very limiting and its whole purpose is to teach a process strategy not the concept. It is far better asking a child to record as many number problems that would equal to 20 as they can. This open ended task invites the child to show what they know and areas that they need further development. This question could be asked at children of all ages as the depth of answers should increase with the age of a child. For example it would be expected that children in Year 6 could use fractions, decimals, basic algebra, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction and squared numbers in their answers.
6. The Number Triad
It is important for children to have a strong number sense as this is essential for all areas of Mathematics. Children need to be able to understand the three parts of a number, also known as the number triad. They need to know what the number looks like (symbol), how to read the number (words) and be able to make that number (quantity). As parents and educators, we can expose them to lots of numbers in the environment eg number plates, house numbers and speed limit signs, we can ask them to read numbers that we come across eg read a telephone number that you need to type into a phone and we can constantly ask them to make a number with a collection eg ask them to get you 14 potatoes for a potato salad you are making. All three areas of a number need to be developed to have a strong number sense.
7. Ask the teacher
If you are struggling to work out the best way to help your child in a particular area for Mathematics just ask their teacher. Most teachers are more than happy to help by running mini maths lessons for parents to help them understand the way Mathematics is taught in the 21st century classroom.
8. The relationship between Literacy and Numeracy
Most children struggle in Mathematics due to the language of Mathematics. They may not be familiar with particular terms so it necessary to ensure that a child is comprehending the words in a maths task just as much as the mathematical concept behind it. If a Mathematics question is asking a student to find the second least favourite food in a survey, they need to have a good understanding of the words “second” and “least” before they can even attempt to answer the problem.
9. Compare things
Encourage your child to compare the size, shape or orientation of objects. Get them to order items from largest to smallest or lightest to heaviest. This should be done during their play. For example, if they are playing with containers in water get them to try and order the containers from the container that holds the most water (largest volume) to the container that holds the least (smallest volume)
10. Develop all areas of Mathematics
It is easy to just develop the Number concepts such as Place Value, Fractions, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division. Equal time needs to be placed on other areas of Mathematics like Measurement (length, area, volume/capacity, mass, time), Data (surveys, graphs, charts) and Space and Geometry (3D, 2D, Position). All these areas need to be developed in context. It needs to mean something to the child in order for them to learn and understand it.
I hope these 10 ideas have given you something to think about.
Until next time …
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