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There is No Math Gene

By: Michelle Hyde, FUSE Math Teacher


If you’re a person, and you do math, then good news! You are a math person! As a passionate math educator and self-professed math geek, here are my favorite tips to help YOU help your child be a better math student.

  • “I’m not a math person,” are the five most harmful words you can say in front of your child.  Avoid telling your child things like, “I was never good at math either.”  As adults you use math successfully every day, oftentimes, not realizing it because of your inherent number sense.
  • Encourage number sense.  Number sense is your ability to use and understand numbers and their relative values.  It includes using numbers to make judgments by developing useful strategies for mental math, counting, measuring, estimating, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.  For children of all ages, number sense development is crucial, so think out loud. Be aware of when you’re applying math skills in your daily life and talk about it with your child.  For example, at a restaurant, grocery, on-line shopping, gas station, etc., explain how you are determining the tip, the grocery budget, an on-line order with tax and shipping, gas mileage, compare gas prices, etc.  Don’t worry about “teaching.”  Just talk through your thought processes.  Have your child assist you with or without a calculator.  Also play games esp. with dice and cards to promote number sense in a fun way.
  • Be real. Relate to your child’s struggles with math and share your perseverance and success with math. Just as children meet developmental milestones such as walking and talking at different ages, your child will also master math concepts at different points throughout the school year. Students move from concrete thinking to abstract reasoning at different rates.
  • Be patient and positive when doing math homework with your child.  If math homework becomes too stressful, take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes.  If a math strategy is unfamiliar, look at class notes, examples, and/or contact the teacher.  Avoid criticizing “new math,” the curriculum, or the teacher.  Math skills and strategies that are new to a child (and sometimes to a parent) allow for brain growth.  Just like a good personal trainer will push you to do new exercises that initially cause struggle and sore muscles, your gains in strength and muscle tone allow you to value the workout, the trainer, and the belief in yourself.
  • Avoid associating math success with speed, which creates anxiety.  Students who work slowly are often deeper thinkers and develop stronger logical reasoning and problem solving skills.  If your child makes a mistake, find logic in their reasoning.  For example, if your child states 3 x 4 = 7, explain how it’s easy to rush and accidentally add.  Remind your child to slow down and take a closer look.
  • Have your child think aloud and explain his/her thinking.  Guide your child’s thinking and avoid telling him/her the answer.
  • Above all, encourage a growth mindset.  After all, MATHmeans Mistakes Allow Thinking to Happen.  When your child makes a mistake, tell him/her “That’s great because that means you’re learning, and your brain is growing!”

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