When math success adds up at home

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Mathematics education is constantly changing. In previous generations, it has focused on arithmetic and procedural understanding. Today, educators need to prepare students for a world in which jobs haven't been developed yet, using technologies that haven't been invented yet in order to solve problems that we don't know yet exist, says educator Karl Fisch in his famous YouTube video, Did You Know?

As a result, the shift in mathematics education has been toward developing students' conceptual understanding so they are equipped to navigate this ever-changing world. Math instruction now transcends the math classroom; processes such as reasoning, problem solving, communication, critical thinking, and application are essential cross-disciplinary tools for student success.

It is critical that educators support parental understanding of the new mathematical literacies and help parents navigate the changes in goals and priorities in mathematics education. Educators must use multiple strategies, just as they do to ensure their students' success, to support parental involvement.

Curriculum Nights

Curriculum nights are important opportunities for teachers to communicate information about the math curriculum and their own program philosophy. Showcasing student work and providing sample problems enable parents to experience first-hand how students will develop their mathematical understanding and problem-solving skills. Co-ordinating keynote speakers to address the school community and share their expertise can further support parental understanding of this shift in mathematics education.

Parent Math Workshops

Through parent math workshops, parents understand that problem solving is a skill that is taught, just as skills were when they were in school. Parents can also explore mathematical concepts in a comfortable setting. Parents should have the opportunity to explore fun and engaging ways to reinforce mathematical skills that can be easily used at home. It is crucial that a debriefing session be held at the end of the workshop so that parents can discuss the mathematical skills and concepts that are reinforced through the use of games and fun activities.

Math Fairs

Math fairs are events where students, educators, families and the community can gather together to celebrate the joy of engaging in rich mathematical challenges. From tackling traditional math puzzles to creating new problems, students take ownership of mathematics challenges and bring them to life in a non-competitive environment, according to the SNAP Mathematics Foundation. Teachers share their expertise with parents, peers and community members while supporting their understanding and problem-solving skills. These meaningful problem-solving experiences encourage all participants to think critically at higher levels, to apply their knowledge and understanding in a variety of contexts, and to persevere when the solution is not immediately apparent or available to them.

Family Math Nights

Family math nights revolve around parents and students engaging in hands-on problem-solving activities together and can be organized in many ways. Parents can gain insight into their child's learning when they work together toward a solution, suggest Family Math authors Jean Kerr Stenmark, Virginia Thompson and Ruth Cossey. Parents and children, for instance, can rotate through a set number of stations. These stations can have sets of directions and necessary materials set up ahead of time by students, or they can be led by students.

Math Libraries

Whole schools, individual grade teams, or divisions can set up math libraries or take-home activities. All students are encouraged to read nightly. Why not create a library of math books for students to take home and share with parents? Or better yet, provide students with bookbags, including math-based picture books, math activity cards and necessary math manipulatives (concrete materials that allow students to easily visualize math concepts, such as base 10 pattern blocks and counters). A math kit can include a problem to be solved or a math game for families to share. Whether a bookbag or kit, each should involve a journal so that parents and students can record their thoughts on the process and solutions.

Math Growth Portfolios and Student-Led Conferencing

Math growth portfolios can be vehicles through which parents can see a chronological progression of their child's understanding of mathematical concepts and their skill development. Work samples, reflections and goals are some of the items that may be included in a growth portfolio.

Most importantly, students feel a sense of pride and accomplishment upon reviewing and reflecting on their progress with their parents. This can be captured during a student-led conference where parents are typically invited to the school. Students lead a conversation with their parents about their learning and growth using their portfolio. The teacher facilitates the conference. These conferences are not intended to replace the role of parent-teacher interviews but rather to enhance communication between school and home, and to support the development of planning, metacognition and other skills, and student ownership of learning.

Communication with parents helps them understand why and how math education has changed. Providing opportunities to build family-school partnerships is critical to developing students' positive attitudes toward math and solidifying parent support of school initiatives. When parents support student learning, students see the value in school, are more motivated, develop ownership of their learning and have increased self-confidence.

—Lauren Phillips & Jennifer Wyatt
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