Math has traditionally gotten a bad rap. And with the new Common Core Standards, the constant subject of fiery education debates last year, parents are struggling to support their childrens’ math learning at home. Many feel lost, frustrated, and even angry when trying to help with math homework. Of course, this is nothing new. But adding to the struggle is the fact that the math of today isn’t the same as it was for parents — making it harder for parents to understand the material and confidently explain it to their children.
This dislike and fear of math is typical in a lot of households. Take, for example, the difference between reading at home and math at home. Bedtime reading is often a time of family togetherness and comfort. There is no stress during the quintessential bedtime reading, just enjoyment of the activity. Math time, on the other hand, can be full of confusion and tears.
For many parents, math time often dredges up their own stressful childhood math experiences filled with frustration. These memories lead to lifelong “math anxiety.” This fear lessens the chance a child will succeed in math and love it. As a recent psychology study shows, parents who are math-anxious transfer this anxiety onto their children when helping with homework.
But this is beginning to change. And not a moment too soon.
Tools to Beat the Math Blues
How do parents make math time more like reading time? How can they replace math dread with math love and instill in children an awe and curiosity for the math that is all around them in their daily lives?
A great start to getting students engaged at home is ensuring that they are engaged at school. Problem-based, inquiry math that asks students to solve real-world problems, encourages a deeper understanding of math concepts, and an appreciation for collaborative problem-solving (students learn and solve problems together, not in isolation). If students are truly enthusiastic about math at school, that enthusiasm should be felt and seen at home too.
Providing math play after school and at home is also an important key to giving students a “math-mindset” — so that classroom learning is complemented with activities throughout their social, home life. Amanda Nehring at Scholastic recently shared fun, common-core math games in her post, Partnering With Parents: Common Core State Standards Math Games.
Math circles (usually organized by teachers with parent participation), bring students together after school to solve math problems in the form of interactive puzzles and hands-on games. This is a way to make math into a fun, social experience using game-based learning.
At home, parents can provide options for math play so that classroom learning is complemented and math homework is not so painful (wouldn’t it be great if students and parents looked forward to doing math homework?). Kathleen Lucadamo (@), writer for The Hetchinger Report, recently wrote a post suggesting that parents should resist the urge to struggle with teaching children common core math at home (Back off parents: It’s not your job to teach Common Core math when helping with homework). Lucadamo speaks from experience being in the “math-trenches” with her 6-year old daughter, but she also speaks to other parents and teachers who offer sound suggestions on combating math-anxiety at home including parents embracing confusion and mistakes as a natural part of learning and emphasizing with kids that there is more than one way to solve a problem.
Some parents are responding to the math homework frustration by taking matters into their own hands and coming up with fun, creative solutions to break down the wall of math anxiety. One such parent is Leslie Gilbert, who created MathKit (@getamathkit) to support her daughter’s elementary math learning. MathKit is a set of interactive games designed to make math play into family fun time for children in grades K-3. MathKit is designed to appeal to girls, who are traditionally outnumbered in STEM careers.
Although Mathkit’s kickstarter campaign fell short of reaching its crowdfunding goal, Leslie offers the kits for sale on her website for $30 (the basic Essentials Kit) and $75 (the complete Learning System). The kit comes with ten different hands-on, problem-solving games to inspire a love of math early. The kit also includes a helpful guide for parents with tips for creating a nurturing math environment at home.
Home school curriculum specialist, Cathy Duffy (@CathyDuffy1), recently reviewed Mathkit on her blog, offering a detailed overview of the game and how parents can use it in a variety of ways to create family fun around math:
“Many activities will naturally lead to silliness and fun while others will depend upon the style of the parent’s oversight and direction… MathKit is totally interactive. A parent can play games with a child or children can compete against one another. MathKit incorporates many different strategies that help children master math facts, strategies such as learning visual patterns, counting objects, connecting similar facts, using the number line or counting on fingers. Activities require students to then practice math facts within games so acquiring math-fact fluency is a far more positive experience than completing work sheets or drilling students with flash cards.”
Check out our interview with Leslie (below) where she shares her journey to empowering herself, other parents and students, and what she has learned launching an edtech startup.
With the help of edtech innovating parents like Leslie, and other proponents of making math learning fun, like GeekDad and GeekMom (who frequently write about how to overcome math anxiety on their blogs), math time can transform from tears and frustration into smiles and joy!
Education Insider: Why do you think parents often-times have so much difficulty getting students excited about math at home?
Leslie Gilber: Many parents had stressful experiences with math at school and never connected math with enjoyment themselves. For these parents, doing math with their child at home can be nerve-wracking, especially if the methods are unfamiliar. They don’t want to pass on math anxiety to their children so they try to avoid doing math together.
For parents who didn’t have math anxiety, it is still difficult to know exactly what to do. To support reading, families can surround themselves with great books and read together. But, bringing math into the home can feel more like required homework and less like fun. It is key for families to find some math activities that are genuinely enjoyable, such as games or logic puzzles.
Education Insider: What are your goals for MathKit (for parents, students, and as a business)?
Leslie Gilbert: My first product is MathKit for addition and subtraction, currently for sale in my online shop. MathKit’s goal is to take the most common required math for families in K-3 — math facts — and change the tone from stressful drill to relaxing play. But, I have a bigger vision for MathKit as a business.
I believe math has the same potential for loving support at home that many families already enjoy with reading. I’d like to turn MathKit into a subscription service that makes it easy for families to provide ongoing loving and playful math support at home. MathKit will include games, activities, and puzzles that build essential skills as well as enjoyment of math challenges. My guidance will help parents teach kids a learning mindset, and kids can take on math challenges within a safe learning environment at home.
Education Insider: What type of improvements did you see in your daughter and other children who used MathKit? Feedback from parents and teachers?
Leslie Gilbert: My daughter has greatly improved her ability to explain her thinking, which is a skill beyond the thinking itself. She also has progressed a lot in her fear of confusion. She used to shut down when she had trouble, and now she understands that confusion is normal on the way to understanding.
Many parents have reported that their children embrace the MathKit, picking out favorite games and bringing the kit out to play with parents and neighbors. They really respond to the inviting design and the simple fun of the games. Parents who purchased MathKit because their children were resisting math learning before are my biggest supporters. It is a huge transformation to watch their kids go from tears to smiles about math.
Teachers tell me they love the entire message of the kit, the included learning tools, and the fact that MathKit supports a “math dialogue.”
Education Insider: What was the process of creating EdTech like for you? What type of support did you receive from teachers and other parents?
Leslie Gilbert: I could go on and on with this one! It has been a huge endeavor to make MathKit, beginning summer of 2014. I had tremendous support from parents, right from the start. Parents signed up to come learn about my idea and become tester families, and I had to close down the sign-up form after 20 families! We crowded into my living room and I told them about my ideas and they told me about their needs. My tester families tried out the games and early prototypes and helped me focus my vision.
My neighbor and designer Rebekka was instrumental in making MathKit welcoming for families. We worked tirelessly together to learn how to produce a product that was beautiful, yet scalable.
I brought teachers in later in the process to give feedback as I fine-tuned the parent tips. I’ve loved the response from teachers. It really feels like a partnership to support parents and kids.
Education Insider: What advice would you give parents who are looking for ways to engage students in math at home (in addition to getting the MathKit)?
Leslie Gilbert: I think it is important for parents to be kind to themselves about math. Families experience so much pressure to be perfect, but we don’t have to be perfect. I have plenty of days where my family doesn’t do any extra math beyond homework, and it’s all I can do to keep up with my three-year old and seven-year old and daily life. The key is to not give up on it altogether.
Any way you can bring math into the home in a positive way is enriching for kids. I love logic puzzles, Bedtime Math, KenKen, and many other activities. I have a Pinterest board of some of my favorite math resources, and you can get ongoing ideas by subscribing to my MathKit Tips newsletter or following me on Facebook or Twitter.
Just remember to try different things and find activities that your family truly enjoys. There are many ways to play and enjoy math. Doing some math as pure play makes required math homework more relaxed, and helps kids build a love of learning!
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