Math Inquiry Stops Here: Bridging the Home-School Gap

Posted on Sep 1, 2013 in Professional Blog

“There is a great disconnect between home and school mathematics.”

On a daily basis, my students are engaged in rich, open-ended math investigations. They are inspired to construct meaning, transfer knowledge and solve complex problems to achieve deep understanding. My goal is for students to see mathematics as beautiful, exciting, connected and ever-present in their lives.

Here are some examples of math challenges that take place at school:

  • Can you have a square metre that’s not a square? Prove it.
  • What can you do with 5,000 years, 10 legacies and 1 piece of paper?
  • How can you prove geometric formulae through art?
  • Demonstrate how identifying patterns helps you solve problems.
  • How do you count to 1000? (Project by @JKSuth)
  • Who is the average Gr 4 student?

 

math collage

 

But what is happening at home? Are we still photocopying dull, repetitive homework sheets for students to practice skills in isolation? What message does this send to parents about the nature of mathematics and the kind of thinking we value? Are our students spending hours each day at after-school academies, so they can recite multiplication facts to 17 and divide fractions at speed?

I believe there is a great disconnect between home and school mathematics. As teachers, we are increasingly skilled at designing inquiries, aiming for authenticity and valuing the cognitive process, rather than a 3-digit “answer”. Now, we must work harder to involve parents as partners in this journey.

It’s time to up-skill parents to be influential in their child’s math education. This involves unpacking parents’ own experiences of mathematics at school and discussing their beliefs about what math is and which skills are important. Confidence with basic arithmetic will almost certainly emerge as a key belief. And it is important. Without mental computation skills, our students cannot solve the problems listed above. However, it is possible to develop fluent recall of facts in multiple ways. Here, we can introduce parents to the power of games and the importance of practicing skills in the context of real experiences (in order to strengthen recall and deepen conceptual understanding).

Parents are our greatest asset in making mathematics authentic for our students. By highlighting “math moments” in their daily lives, parents become the ultimate teachers of what is real, valuable and exciting about mathematics. If parents invite children to think mathematically as they engage in daily tasks, our students’ mental fluency and problem solving skills will improve dramatically.

As teachers, it’s important to communicate with parents in person, in writing, without jargon and on a regular basis, if we aspire to quality math experiences beyond the classroom. Just as we do with students, it’s important to scaffold the journey by providing resources (e.g. recipes, maps, packs of cards) until parents feel comfortable and confident to identify math in the home. Finally, it’s important to celebrate home-school connections through photos, blogs, thank-you notes and daily news.

Here is a simple list I sent home recently, outlining 3 ways to “do math” beyond school:

Cook:  Invite your child to sequence tasks, estimate quantities, measure in whole units & fractions or even multiply recipes to feed your family.

Travel: Young child can count cars, trucks, lights or signs as you drive along. Children love to crack codes on car license plates (by turning letters into numbers). Older children can use maps to estimate travel time, based on distance and speed.

Shop: Young children can count and weigh vegetables at the market. Always ask your child to pay at the store and help them calculate how much change they should receive. Older children can set a budget and choose the best value product, based on cost per weight.

This is not a perfect example of communication – but it’s a start. It must be complemented by dialogue, updates on class inquiries, invitations to attend lessons and ready-to-use resources to broaden inquiries.

The ultimate goal is to have math inquiries continue seamlessly beyond the walls of my classroom so there is no demarcation between “home” and “school” math. Ideally, my students will view learning as a series of exciting opportunities to make sense of the world, in any subject area, using any skill-set, at any time or place.

I’m not there yet – but with parents as partners – mathematics can become a more exciting, authentic part of each child’s life at home and school.

 

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2 Comments

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  1. Sanjana

    Hi Shannon.

    I tumbled upon your blog & enjoyed going through the blog posts of Grade 4. I completely agree with the entire article that you’ve written. We, at our school ( India) too talk to our parents to help their kids to apply the concepts in real life contexts. We are the only IB school in the city & we are just 5 year old. But The unfortunate fact is that the percentage of receptive & co-operative parents is quite less. In that case how to help these kids wherein the parental support ( due to number of factors) is negligible? & this applies not only in maths but other disciplines too.

    Do you face similar concern?

    Regards,
    Sanjana

    • Shannon

      Hi Sanjana,
      Creating partnerships is certainly more complex when cultural and language differences exist among teachers & parents. We face these challenges, too. There is no simple answer but I think that relationships and dialogue are very powerful tools – particularly unpacking parents’ own beliefs about education. Also, transparency is important – so that parents can see first-hand what inquiry “looks like”, rather than being told the philosophy behind it. Finally, I think time and patience are crucial. With each year that families remain at our school, they become more invested and more able to appreciate the benefits of an inquiry approach. Beyond that, we can take solace in the fact that students themselves are the inquirers and constructors of meaning. If the children are developing a thirst for knowledge and a desire to seek answers, they will transfer their skills beyond the classroom, with or without us! I’m not sure if any of this is helpful. I certainly understand the complexity and the challenges. I hope this post didn’t come across as simplistic. It’s a slow process, requiring patience and relationships. Thank you for continuing the conversation.
      Best wishes,
      Shannon

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