What’s a parent to do?

I’ll admit right up front that I’m probably not neutral on this.  I love Mathematics.  I always have and I hope I always will.  I’m the type of guy that will go into Chapters and head to the aisle with Mathematics and puzzle books.  I have a bookshelf of resources although I’ll admit to doing more online lately.  I’m also the first to admit that there’s so much more to learn about Mathematics.

As I drove through town yesterday, I found my mind thinking about Mathematics everywhere I looked.  There was symmetry in the design of buildings, all kinds of advertisements on stores for sales with ##% discounts, I wonder if 5% over or under the posted speed limit would get me stopped (as I saw workers extending the 50 km/h zone – grrrr), I wondered how much wind speed was needed to make a flag fly straight out, I wonder how accurate the real estate agent’s measurements for rooms in a house for sale are, I noted the dimensions on the posted signs for a new condominium project, I wondered what angle that old decrepit shed was leaning and what would it take to fall over, and so much more.  Mathematics truly is everywhere and you don’t have to look too hard at all to find it.

You can’t turn anywhere in Ontario these days without reading about problems with Mathematics in schools and experts from all sides weighing in with their opinion about how to fix things.

The Toronto Star has weighed in with an editorial “Giving kids an hour of math a day adds up: Editorial“.  The local school board is researching its approach as noted in “An Interview with Connie Buckler and Cheryl Lovell” posted on Monday.  Fingers are being pointed; you just have to find a news story, read the comments, and you’re quick to realize that we’re all over the map with opinions about Mathematics, techniques, approaches, who is to blame, and the use of technology and its perceived impact.

I was part of discussion which boiled down to “taking control of the situation” and teaching real Mathematics at home.  Real as in “how I learned it”.

It’s like most things in education; everyone’s an expert because we all studied it in school and succeeded at some level or another.  It’s also the brunt of many jokes.  One of my faves:

Father: What did you do in school today?
Son: We played a guessing game!
Father: I thought you had your math exam.

But seriously…

What’s a parent to do?  One of the suggestions from our conversation – why not put those devices for good use?  “Surely there’s an app to teach math.”

Actually, there’s quite a few!

From the Google Play store

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From the Apple Store

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Of course, these are just a sample of the hundreds and hundreds that parents and students have available and are just a click away.  It would take you so long to go through and evaluate the appropriateness of these for your desired results.  By that time, the student will be in the next grade!

Not to be overlooked is the logic bias that you’ll find.  You need to be checking the philosophy of learning Mathematics that the developer(s) has.  The application that you download today may be the exact opposite to how the student is learning in the class.

That isn’t good either.

Remember the joke about the student bringing home a note from the teacher asking the parent to stop helping with homework?

You could turn to an online expert article “Class Tech Tips: 15 Free Mobile Apps for Math Practice.”  Hopefully, they’ve done the legwork for you.  Hmmm?

Or, how about this for a radical approach?

Re-examine the school/home communication.

How about?

  • A family Mathematics night so that parents can live the Mathematics their child is learning
  • A daily post to the class blog with problems / solutions / inquiries suitable for work at home
  • A newsletter identifying computer or mobile applications that are consistent with the Mathematics approach used in the classroom
  • Get involved and understand the direction that a school district is taking with respect to Mathematics so that you can help productively at home
  • Explore the resources that the Ministry of Education is providing the province through Edugains
  • Read the thinking of great Ontario Mathematics teachers like Kyle Pearce in his blog Tap Into Teen Minds

It’s a tough time to be the parent of a student.  The classroom today is far removed from the classroom of the good old days.  The curriculum is substantially different and concepts presented at different times.  Teachers are better qualified for the job today.  We know more about how learning happens. We have more and far better tools and supports in place for students.

The one thing that a parent shouldn’t do is complain or point fingers at the classroom teacher, especially where a student can hear it.  He/She will be following a district directive and using district resources about how the subject should be taught.  As you’ll find noted in the media today, not all teachers are Mathematics experts but you have to know that they’re doing their best to learn and support classroom activities.

If there ever was a time to be a true partner with the school, it’s now.

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