Keep a positive attitude about math

As an elementary teacher, I
often heard parents exclaim in
front of their children: “Math
was never really my thing. I
hated it!” or “I am sure Tyler
inherited his math phobia from
me!” or “My wife has to help
Emily with her homework. I
just don’t get all this ‘new math’
stuff!”

Children constantly hear
these comments and begin to
think it’s okay to dislike math.
They start to believe math
is scary, confusing, or not
important or relevant in life.

Standardized test scores for
junior math in several provinces
have either declined or
stagnated in recent years. This
bears out in junior classrooms
where many students in
Grades 4, 5 and 6 are feeling
discouraged in math, are losing
interest and are falling behind.

Math = Fun

Initially, children come to
school loving “math” activities
(sorting, counting, organizing,
ordering). They are inquisitive
and active problem solvers.
In Grades 1, 2 and 3, children
use manipulatives such as
blocks, counters, tiles, cubes
and shapes. This gives them
a varied, visual and tactile
understanding of abstract
mathematical concepts. In the
beginning, math is fun! But then
the troubles begin.

In the junior grades, math
is taught differently. There are
more formulas, procedures
(algorithms) and word
problems, which require the
application of knowledge. They
can be particularly daunting
because many students have
diffi culty generalizing and
applying their learning to
different contexts.

Often they think they “know”
the material, but when they
need to actually apply the
knowledge to solve a word
problem, they are lost.
It’s a double whammy against
success. In Grades 4, 5 and 6,
there is more content and more
complex and abstract concepts.
At the same time, extracurricular
activities start to vie
for students’ time. To many
students, math seems much
harder, more work, uncool, and
often, quite pointless.

Times have changed

Parents often get confused
and frustrated when they
help with homework. They
are rusty and they have
forgotten a lot of the material.
Or they cannot understand
the content and processes of
their child’s math. Teaching
through problem solving, oral
presentations of solutions,
arrays, peer assessment,
rubrics, open-ended questions,
success criteria, and group
work are a part of today’s math
classes. There is less emphasis
on memorization and rote
learning and more emphasis on
developing students’ thinking
and deeper understanding of
math concepts…the “big ideas”.

Genuine interest and support

What kinds of math messages
are we giving our children?
And more importantly, why
do we continue to do this?
Communicating negative
messages hinders our children’s
progress in math, and this is
a first step everyone can take.
Start being positive about math!

Parents who want to help
their child should curb the
negative comments and begin
to show genuine interest and
encouragement in their child’s
math program in a positive,
supportive way.

If you’re unsure where to
begin, speak to your child’s
teacher about how to work
together.

How can parents help

Always communicate
positive messages
about math to your
child. Children will
be more successful in
math if:

  • They believe math
    is worthwhile and
    valuable.
  • They want to do well
    in math.
  • They believe they
    can do well in math.
  • They receive positive
    messages, such as
    “Math is important” or
    “You can be successful
    in math.”

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.

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