In our society, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, jokingly, “I was always terrible at math!” But could you imagine chatting with someone at a dinner party and hearing them say, “I was always terrible at reading?” It has become perfectly acceptable to belittle mathematics, to joke about hating it or being terrible at it, as if it’s a nuisance one had to endure when younger, but now in adulthood it’s unnecessary. Sadly, this attitude permeates popular culture; negative references to math are commonplace in the movies and on TV. When children are exposed to these attitudes, they can’t help but be affected by them. As parents, we know the importance of leading by example, of modeling good behavior, and we have a significant role to play in combating the negative attitudes towards math that our children are very likely to hear. Whatever your own personal feelings about the subject – whether you always enjoyed it and excelled at it, or you frequently struggled with it and disliked it, or you were somewhere in between – you must help your children develop a healthy appreciation for it, and there are many, many reasons to appreciate it!
Fostering a positive outlook on mathematics is important, but your child also needs to have a toolkit of “day-to-day” strategies. I would like to offer a set of strategies for your child to use, strategies that will help him/her be successful in math. I have grouped these roughly by “situation”: On an ongoing basis, in advance of a specific assessment, and during the summer (or other lengthy vacation). You’ll notice that the following strategies are written as if your child is the reader, and that’s exactly what I have in mind. In order for your child to be successful, s/he needs to be proactive, to take responsibility for the learning. Both you and your child should be reading this.
On an Ongoing Basis During the School Year
Review regularly, and don’t make the mistake of reviewing only the most recent material. Go back and review what you learned a few weeks ago, or a few months ago. On a day when you have a lot of homework, spend a little less time reviewing past material; when you have a light load, spend more time on it. It should be done regularly, but it shouldn’t take the place of other assignments.
Keep a math glossary in which you write key terms throughout the school year. For each term, give an explanation in words, diagrams, illustrations, examples of particular types of problems worked out, or whatever seems appropriate for that term.
Make thorough use of your textbook. Many texts contain some great resources that you can use to strengthen your understanding of the math you’re working on. Look in the back for a section called Key Concepts or something similar (a section that offers additional explanations and problems worked out). Most texts have the answers to the odd-numbered exercises in the back, so you can try these problems and check your answers. If you find that you’re getting the wrong answer and you’re not sure why, jot down a note to ask your teacher for some help on this topic. Sometimes you’ll find a section of additional practice problems, and you’ll usually find a glossary of terms as well.
Sometimes the way your teacher explains something, and the way your textbook shows something, are still leaving you puzzled. There is a wide range of websites that offer explanations of basic math skills and concepts, and if you poke around you may find explanations that are more to your liking. Here are a few well-established sites to check out:
As you study or do your homework, jot down any questions that arise, anything you’re not sure about, and then make sure you ask your teacher the next opportunity you have. You’ll be more likely to do this if you keep a special piece of paper in a specific place all the time, just for this purpose. For example, put a sheet of paper at the very front of your notebook, write at the top, “Questions,” and record your questions there. Every time you have a question answered successfully, cross it off the list.
Keep an organized notebook! Most teachers have specific ways they like their students to keep their notebooks arranged, but make sure you have a specific place for tests and quizzes, returned assignments, daily notes, and so on.
Talk to your parent(s) about the math you’re learning. Parents really love to know what you’re working on in school, and by talking through what you’re learning you can actually help solidify your understanding.
That’s all for Part One, but you’ll find many more good ideas in part Two!