As I have worked with teachers both in this district and in other districts regarding changing their math practice, there is often another element that needs to be addressed. Parents of the students in the class begin to wonder and ask questions about how things are being done in the classroom. Parents notice that instead of a page of problems all done using the exact same “formula” or algorithm, a lesson may be structured quite differently, possibly around a single question! It seems so foreign and strange, and parents cannot help but ask, “What’s going on in math? Why does it look different than when we went to school? The other method worked for me – why, I passed math, so shouldn’t things just stay the same?”
One of things I do to support both teachers AND parents is to hold a “Math Night” for the parents of a given class or school. This is NOT meant to be a fun “Family Math Night” that is set up like a carnival with a variety of stations, all with activities centered on math topics. Those are wonderful events and can be an exciting way to expose parents and children to many interesting components in math, and they certainly have their place. I would encourage any class or school to host such an event!
However, there is a need to actually address mathematical issues with parents, so I am talking about a parent meeting that is meant to be something deeper, something to challenge the “why?” of how we have long taught mathematics. Such a meeting is meant to invite parents to think about what it means to “do math” and why it is “better to do one problem five ways than five problems one way” (Polya). I am asking parents to challenge the notion that just because they were taught a certain way does not make it an effective method of teaching.
Knowing that we are all busy, I keep the time frame to a minimum, but I usually plan for about an hour.
My Math Night plan looks something like this:
- Welcome and other necessary starting info (e.g., washrooms for young children)
- Introduction of me – who I am and how I am involved with the class/school/district (done either by the teacher/principal hosting the meeting or by me). If you are hosting for the parents of your own students, this step is, of course, unnecessary!
- Posing a problem: how many ways can we find to solve a problem
- Doing the problem (parents actually doing the kind of work I ask students to do!)
- Sharing our methods for solving the problem
- Drawing conclusions about the thinking that was taking place
- Rethinking philosophy about the teaching and learning of mathematics: why it is better to really think in math class and not just do pages of (usually) meaningless problems
- Questions and Answers
Parents just want what is best for their children, and we want to help parents understand something about mathematics curriculum, and in so doing, grasp a vision of deeper mathematical understanding for their children.
I’d love to hear from you if you host your own event!