Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"I Was Never Good At Math Either"

Next Tuesday night is Parents Night.  We set up as departments around the school and parents move as grade level groups to each room (so we'll get all of the ninth grade parents together for instance).  We get ten minutes with each group of parents.  A lot of other departments hand out syllabi and describe their courses.  I wouldn't want to just hand out syllabi on my first day of class with my students, so I don't do it with their parents either.

I run a class.  I have a warm up on the board followed by a list of what I plan to get accomplished that day and then their "homework" (to read the syllabus and e-mail me with any questions).  My warm-up is usually something that their children did in the past week, preferably something without a lot of prior knowledge necessary.  I want them to experience the fast-paced energetic focused energy that their kids see every day (or at least I hope is what the kiddos experience).  Most of them appreciate the shift from being talked at, but some are definitely uncomfortable.

"I don't know how to do math," "I don't remember any of this stuff," "We weren't here for the lesson."  These are all common comments that I hear as parents wrestle with algebra and calculus.  I give them lots of encouragement, don't let them give up, suggest that they help each other, but make sure that they each understand the concepts.  It gives the parents a sense of how I help their student when they are struggling in class.

After our warm up, the "In Class" schedule usually includes a section on "Your attitudes about math."  I remind parents that their attitude and feeling toward math and how they talk about it will influence their children.  I implore them to please be careful to give messages of encouragement and not an "I never got this either."

I'm sure that I will have more questions about SBG for the ninth grade and about our connection to UVM for calculus, but I want to keep the focus on how we deal with discomfort and what we want to model for our children. 


  1. This reminds me of how a friend used to do a Jeopardy-type game in her classroom where it was kids against the parents. Maybe it was for Back to School Night? I don't quite remember. What I liked was that it showed the parents how much the students had learned. There were questions that stumped the parents, but the kids knew how to solve them! It gave the parents appreciation for the hard work their child had been doing to learn the material. I like how you have a section about parents' attitudes towards math. Parents should be aware of how their attitudes towards school in general affect their children.

    1. Yes, I'm pretty sure that the kids would show up their parents in most of high school math. I think parents admit that their students know more than they do in math. I want to ensure that the parents don't belittle the importance of the math that their kids are doing in school. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Hi,

    I came across your blog via David Wees, and your headline "I was never any good at math either" caught my eye. (That was ME in high school and undergrad, lol).

    As a fellow mathematics educator I thought you might be able to help in spreading the word about an educational TV show for preteens about math that we're putting together. "The Number Hunter" is a cross between Bill Nye The Science Guy and The Crocodile Hunter -- bringing math to children in an innovative, adventurous way. I’d really appreciate your help in getting the word out about the project.


    I studied math education at Jacksonville University and the University of Florida. It became clear to me during my studies why we’re failing at teaching kids math. We're teaching it all wrong! Bill Nye taught kids that science is FUN. He showed them the EXPLOSIONS first and then the kids went to school to learn WHY things exploded. Kids learn about dinosaurs and amoeba and weird ocean life to make them go “wow”. But what about math? You probably remember the dreaded worksheets. Ugh.

    I’m sure you know math is much more exciting than people think. Fractal Geometry was used to create “Star Wars” backdrops, binary code was invented in Africa, The Great Pyramids and The Mona Lisa, wouldn’t exist without geometry.
    Our concept is to create an exciting, web-based TV show that’s both fun and educational.

    If you could consider posting about the project on your blog, I’d very much appreciate it. Also, if you'd be interested in link exchanging (either on The Number Hunter site, which is in development, or on StatisticsHowTo.com which is a well-established site with 300,000 page views a month) please shoot me an email. We're also always looking for input and ideas from other math educators!

    Thanks in advance for your help,