Supporting Your Mathematicians!
Encourage children to play math puzzles and games.
Let your children see you playing, thinking through, and struggling (authentically) with these puzzles. Puzzles and games - anything with dice really - will help kids enjoy math, experience struggle as a piece of the puzzle, and develop number sense, which is critically important. Avoid jumping in to alleviate them of the struggle!
Avoid a focus on right or wrong.
Be encouraging and avoid telling kids they are wrong when they are working on math problems. Similarly, avoid praise or focus on the right answer. Instead, find the logic in their thinking - there is always some logic to what they say. For example, if your child multiplies 3 by 4 and gets 7, you could say: “Show me how you got that… How did you think about it?... Oh, I see, you are using what you know about addition to combine 3 and 4. Is that how you were thinking about it? Let’s think, what does it mean to multiply? Let’s look at that together. Is that the same as combining two quantities or does it mean something different? What if we had three plates with four cookies on each plate. We would have three groups of four. Let’s see… how many cookies would there be?” Try to shift focus to “how did you come to that solution” and away from “is it right or wrong”.
Never associate math with speed.
Unfortunately, many children come to believe that fast students are those who have the most potential, meaning that many slower but deep thinkers are turned away from math. Many of the top mathematicians in the world are also some of the slowest math thinkers. It is important to present mathematics as a subject that requires depth of thought, not fast recall. *And, we know that forcing kids to work quickly on math is the best way to start math anxiety for children, especially girls. There are much more effective practices than flashcards or speed drills!
Avoid sharing the idea that you were “bad” at math or that you dislike it - especially if you are a mother.
Research has shown that as soon as mothers shared that idea with their daughters, their daughter’s achievement went down. Let your child take the lead (rather than showing them how you learned it). Take interest in their strategies and thinking processes. Who knows, maybe it will spark some never before found understanding and excitement!
Encourage the development of number sense.
What separates high and low achievers is number sense - having an idea of the relative size of quantities (to be able to see it), being able to separate and combine numbers flexibly, and understanding how numbers relate to each other. Children who develop number sense have a range of mathematical strategies at their disposal.
Remember, mistakes and struggle are an important part of the learning process.
The path from not YET knowing to each next stage is a very wiggly one. Jumping in to solve a problem or a puzzle for our children undermines their developing confidence and competence. Struggling with a new idea or concept is very productive for learning. When people make mistakes, brain activity happens that does not happen when students get work correct. Our goal is to be learning - not to already know it! Math is figure-out-able.
Support a growth mindset!
Students’ ideas about their ability determine their learning pathways and achievement. A growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset has a tremendous impact on math achievement and engagement. Students who develop a fixed mindset will often do anything they can to maintain the idea that they are “smart” which can make them vulnerable to unproductive learning behaviors and the avoidance of challenging work or alternative pathways.