Mathematics for the Long Run
What do you hope for your child’s development of math understanding and skills? What role will mathematics play in your child’s education and throughout his or her life? I expect there are a wide variety of responses, including: I don’t want my child to struggle with math like I did. We want our child to know her math facts. I want my child to be able to take Advanced Placement math classes in high school and score well on the SATs. I want my child to continue to enjoy math. I want my child to be able to use math to make good choices in life.
Our math curriculum at Schechter is designed to develop a student’s long-term relationship with mathematics. We have selected new math programs throughout the school. ThinkMath!, the program we’re using in kindergarten through fifth grade, addresses our goals for your children’s math education:
- develop strong mathematical thinkers and problem solvers who are empowered by their understanding of math
- foster understanding of math concepts and computational fluency
- encourage a love of mathematics
- develop the ability to recognize patterns and reason logically and spatially
When many of us think about math in elementary school and beyond, we recall addition and subtraction algorithms, multiplication tables and long division. We remember the rules for multiplying and dividing fractions. However, math is much more than numbers and the basic operations. Mathematics is a discipline, and like most disciplines, it includes a knowledge base with content such as numbers – including whole numbers, fractions and decimals – operations, geometry, probability and algebra. It also includes methods and processes that are unique to the discipline, such as logical proofs, justifying answers and problem solving. Additionally, the discipline of math includes symbols and systems for communicating mathematical ideas, which include equations, graphs, diagrams and, of course, written language. Mathematics is a complex discipline that offers both a knowledge base and a way of looking at the world, as well as a tool for navigating in the world.
Our society approaches reading and writing differently than mathematics. Most of us read books to our children daily. In our families and schools, we instill in our children a love of reading through compelling stories. So, what do we do in our families and schools to encourage a love of mathematics? Typically, with preschoolers and kindergarteners, we encourage the use of jigsaw puzzles, counting games and play with balances. The satisfaction on the face of a preschooler who has tackled and completed a challenging jigsaw puzzle is evident. Yet, it seems that beyond preschool age, puzzle playing and number play in our families fade.
How else can we encourage our children to love mathematics? Having basic fact fluency, but never tackling puzzles or challenging problems, is akin to having a large vocabulary but never actually having access to stories.
Some things we are doing at school:
- Tackling challenging problems and puzzles
- Playing games that require reasoning and skills in the classroom
- Posing problems that are open-ended and encourage different approaches
- Searching for patterns and making predictions based on the patterns we find
- Developing computational fluency
Things to do at home to encourage a love of mathematics:
ring puzzles and games into your family’s daily life. (The NY Times and Boston Globe are great sources for KenKen and Sudoku puzzles.)
- Involve your children in mathematical tasks at home, including cooking and shopping.
- Play games like checkers, chess, Othello, Clue, Mastermind and Mancala.
- Set up piggy banks and savings accounts for your child to experience the most basic way numbers touch our lives.
I invite you to share with me, your teachers and each other how you are encouraging a love of puzzles and mathematical thinking in your home. We will share with you how we are doing so at school. Just as the pleasure of story helps to motivate a child to learn to read (and continue to develop deeper reading skills), the pleasures of puzzle solving can serve to motivate and engage students to learn the skills needed to tackle more challenging problems and puzzles.
We are very excited about our new math program, Think Math!, which is being introduced in grades K-5 and is constructed to accomplish two main goals:
1. Develop conceptual understanding of mathematics, both the content and processes of the discipline
2. Develop computational fluency as a foundation of that understanding
Central to the approach in ThinkMath! is a focus on puzzles and challenging problems to both engage and instruct students. The puzzles are not cutesy “color in all the even numbers” puzzles, but demanding logical reasoning puzzles. You have probably seen some of these puzzles in your children’s early homework assignments. The developers of ThinkMath! also designed the curriculum and pedagogy to capitalize on children’s abilities to build knowledge. Finally, ThinkMath! provides ample opportunity for students to practice their growing skills in a variety of contexts and levels, keeping students engaged and building robust understanding.
At Schechter, we are interested in developing your children’s mastery of mathematical concepts and skills to serve your child over the marathon of education and, indeed, life. We want Schechter graduates to have the understanding, skills and confidence to tackle challenging problems, whether in a new math course in high school or college, when interpreting data from an article or lab experiment, or when making a decision about a mortgage application.
by Amy Sullivan, Math Specialist