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This article is for both parents and teachers who deal with middle school students. In recent years there has been a great amount of change in how math is taught in school. My 30 years of teaching middle school math has shown me that these years are very important for students to have and feel successful in math. With a firm working foundation in math at the end of middle school there is a much higher chance that students will make it past algebra in high school. This is important in our changing world as more and more careers depend on the use of technology and critical thinking skills. It is also important because understanding math as opposed to memorizing formulas allows students to become creative thinkers.
We currently know much more about how the brain works than we did 10 years ago. The most important part of this information has to do with the fact that not all brains think the same way. Some children think in pictures, others need to be moving items around, and still others are what we have always thought of as traditional learners – those who can memorize a formula and use it properly. With the knowledge we have now about the brain we must make every effort to help all students succeed in math.
Here are some concrete ideas for parents who want to help their children with math homework. While these suggestions are aimed at helping parents deal he with homework I would like to suggest that teachers might want to put together a letter to parents with some of these suggestions so that parents have a place to begin.
1. Do NOT do your child’s math homework. This does not help your child learn the material for himself.
2. Wherever possible link math to the real world and find information about careers that require math to share with your child.
3. If your child seems to be confused about where to start you can help by asking:
- Do you understand the question?
- Do you have any ideas about where/how to start?
- Have you done a similar problem like this before in class?
- Does your textbook or your notes have a similar problem?
- Have you seen a simpler problem that might help you get started?
4. If your child has started the problem but seems unsure about what he is doing ask him to share aloud what he is thinking as he writes his steps. This helps the child concentrate and gives you the opportunity to see how your child is thinking this through.
5. When your child finishes a problem you can ask if he thinks it makes sense. You can also ask how he knows that it is correct.
6. There are a multitude of websites where you can find information about the math that your child is learning. Some examples:
* National Council for Teachers of Mathematics offers their website for free to teachers parents and students. The games included on this site can be played against the computer or with others around the world. They are based on middle school math topics.
* Another great resource is MathForum.org, based at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. They are in the process of merging with NCTM in order to reach more teachers and parents. If you go to their site and click on "Dr. Math" you can look through all of the archived questions that students have sent in and received answers for. This part of the site is divided by student grade level and is free. They also have lesson plans for teachers who might want new ideas.