Besides the mathematics learning that takes place at the parent's initiative, there are many opportunities for parents and teachers to work cooperatively in enriching children's experience with mathematics.
These situations are likely to be the most profitable for two reasons. First, children generally want to please both their parents and their teachers. If they see that mathematics is important to both their parents and their teacher, they will consider it important for themselves too. Second, extending mathematical concepts from the classroom to home will establish the idea that mathematics is not just a school subject, but an everyday subject that makes life more interesting and understandable.
Parents who want to become more involved in their child's mathematical education, but who are hesitant to take the initiative on their own, may want to look to the teacher for guidance. Teachers can provide assistance in:
setting up a system of home study;
- helping parents understand the sequencing of mathematical skill development;
- suggesting materials and activities that are entertaining and suitable for their child's level and which can be done in a reasonable amount of time;
- providing clear guidelines on how to use materials;
- giving feedback on the successes and failures of home activities; and
- knowing when to stop working with a child on an activity so that a good working relationship is maintained.
Resources for this collaborative effort are myriad. For the elementary grades, the Arithmetic Teacher (recently renamed Teaching Children Mathematics) is a reliable resource for materials that establish the parent/teacher/student connection.
Every month the "Ideas" section contains activities for grades K-8 and an activity for the home, all related to a common topic. Another example is the "Math Backpack," described in the February 1993 issue of the Arithmetic Teacher.
The Math Backpack contains samples of activities that second-graders can do in their classroom, then take home and share with their parents. The backpacks familiarize parents with teaching techniques, give children an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of mathematical concepts, and engage both parents and children in investigative activities. One backpack included activities for subtraction, pattern blocks, measurement, and telling time.
For the middle school level, a new journal published by NCTM, called Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, features a "Menu of Problems," including appetizers (easy, motivational problems), main courses (robust, solid content problems), and desserts (challenging, intriguing problems). Another monthly feature is the "Mathematics Investigator," which focuses on uses and abuses of mathematics in the media.
In working with teachers, parents should not forget the opportunities that homework assignments offer. Studies have shown that parents' participation in students' homework can increase achievement.
Moreover, the effect of that involvement will be maximized if parents and teachers work together toward common goals. It is important for parents to understand the system the teacher is using to assign and evaluate homework, as well as the methods being used to teach mathematical concepts. Helping children with homework can be counterproductive if parents are working at cross purposes with the classroom teacher.
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