Thursday, 26 September 2013

MAT: The Parent Equation

A study from 2012 stated that Parents are more influential than Schools in terms of academic success. Yikes. This is a HUGE problem my subject area, because it means every "I was never good at math" helps to chip away, if not shatter, the credibility of the system.

If you want to know where I'm coming from, read on - if you just want some resources, skip to the bottom!

I went to a social event and presentation this evening put on by the Carleton Ottawa Mathematics Association (COMA - yeah, I know). It featured Dr. Lynda Colgan giving a talk about "Motivating Moms and Dads... Why Parents Matter in Math Education". I hadn't heard of the above study I linked at before then. I also didn't know about much of the following.


In households where two parents are involved in their child's schoolwork, the child is 52% more likely to be enjoying school. Effects diminish by about Grade 7, because the kids don't relish the involvement anymore, but effects remain. But (supposedly - didn't track down this study) this was true regardless of socio-economic status.

Note I'm not saying that such status is irrelevant. If a parent has to work crazy hours, or the child has problems at home, obviously there will be an effect. I'm saying that if socio-economic status is removed as a variable, there is still a benefit.

Now, the big education push is for literacy. Many studies have been done on this. However, this one from 2007 found that "mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement" ... yet the opposite IS NOT TRUE. And WE DON'T KNOW WHY. In large part because no one's researching early numeracy skills! Literacy has tons of milestones and benchmarks - the math research is about fifty years behind.

"Read these imaginary numbers back to me."
And present day attitudes towards math are only getting worse.

Related to EQAO results (an Ontario standardized test for reading and math at Grade 3 and 6 levels), 50% of those in Grade 3 felt they were not good at math, and didn't see the value in the subject. Shockingly, girls were MORE likely to say they were not good at math, despite the fact that they would OUTPERFORM the boys on the test.

But then, that's a standardized test. What does that really measure? Let's return to the issue of parental education.


The problem (as I understand it) is that parents share their children's doubts about mathematics. In part, this is because of the changes that are occurring in math education. Children these days, they aren't learning the same way their parents did. There's an interesting contradiction there...

Many parents who say "I was never good at math" don't like that we're changing the way it's taught. Well, if it didn't work for you, SHOULDN'T we update it?? But by doing so, we run into the engagement problem. Parents now cannot help their children with their math, because it's so different. As a result, children see math as not important. (Their parents get along fine without it, right?)

We need to address this.

How to address it INCORRECTLY is what's happened in the UK recently. I've seen the periphery of it on Twitter, without really understanding. Here's what I took from today's presentation though, in a nutshell. Pearson (the textbook publisher) ran a huge survey in the UK, out in January 2013, on parents. 2,000 parents of primary school pupils found maths the most difficult subject (after French) for them to help their children to master. The media went nuts about the results.
-How 95 percent of parents are stumped by sums for 8-year-olds
-Parents 'struggling with primary school maths homework'
-Parents 'Fear Helping Children'

The upshot: Parents wanted to help their children, but didn't know how. The government fix was to return to the old teaching methods, so that parents would be able to help again. In other words, instead of making the NEW methods recognizable, they returned to the FAMILIAR (archaic, less effective) ones, to encourage more parental involvement.


To address this problem more CORRECTLY might be through some of the following items (touched on in Lynda's presentation). Basically, what we all want to avoid is: The student needs help, the parent can't provide it, the message becomes "ok, so it's not that important".

-Assign tasks that require gathering data from the home. Reading water meters, dealing with cell phone plans, measuring for a new recipe. Many parents do not necessarily associate such things with "math".

-Explain the terms. Don't say "please find some examples of rectangular prisms in your house for Johnny", trend to "Did you know cereal boxes are an example of rectangular prisms? Can you find some more examples for Johnny?"

"I suppose you're wondering why we gathered here..."
-Make maths a community thing. There is a Community Outreach Centre in Kingston - where Lynda Colgan is - check it out on that link. However, I think we can talk online community too, so here's an additional plug for Christopher Danielson's site "Talking math with your kids".

-Don't send it home unless it can be done independently by the student. This may be partly why internet videos are catching on... that's an easy thing to do at home regardless of your entry level. And in the absence of anything else, it's bringing parents on board. For better or worse.


Of course, this does lead to the question of whether it's worth sending work home at all. Lynda touched on this. Arguments against homework are becoming louder and more popular, in particular after a TIME magazine article. We're currently somewhere in the middle of the pendulum between 'it helps!' and 'it harms!'.

Quick mention on the history, which I found interesting... up until the 1940s, homework was a product of "creating a disciplined mind". It started to fall out of fashion, but Sputnik created a renewed desire for rigor. This lasted until the 1980s, when it started to be seen as potentially doing "social and emotional damage".

In the end, Lynda stated that studies show there IS a correlation between homework and learning. But only for certain populations of students. The more senior ones.

If not 'positive', at least 'pretty sure'.
It's around Grade 7 that things really make a difference, with learning being extended beyond the school day. This, as long as you don't do more than 2 hours a night, because at that point, the situation gets worse again. A "10 minutes times grade, per night" idea was mentioned, which I'd never heard of. Effectively this means Grade 6 is 10x6=1 hr, and by Grade 12, you're up to 2 hrs. In total, not just for math.

That's about the extent of this issue as presented. I suppose the jury's still out - or maybe it's that we're on our second appeal.


So where does this leave us? With the need to educate parents about the importance of math, as much as (if not more than) their children.

There are direct ways of doing this. That said, having the child explain to the parent is even better, because they're the ones with more credibility. There is also informal education, along the lines of "Mythbusters", which has been shown to improve learning experiences.

And then there's our continuing efforts to make math engaging and approachable. Here's some resources out of Kingston, Ontario:
-The second season of "The Prime Radicals" is coming out.
-Mathematical Melodies, a partnership between maths and music WHICH INCLUDES LESSON PLANS.  I must try to find time for this.
-A number of other resources are here, all through the Queen's University page.

Then, as always, there's lots more out there in the so called "Math Twitter Blog O Sphere". As for me, I suppose I'll keep turning mathematics into cute characters and songs over at Taylor's Polynomials... checked that one out yet?

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