There is much interest from parents in our community about two things: 1) what is the math curriculum in BC and 2) how do we help our children be successful in mathematics. Understanding the goals, big idea and “content” of the curriculum is essential for parents understanding how to support their children. Foundational goals of the math curriculum are problem solving, computational fluency and communicating mathematical thinking.
In January, I have presented to parents about mathematics in four different contexts – at a parent information evening at Quilchena Elementary, for a group of new immigrant parents and grandparents with my presentation translated by one of Richmond’s Settlement Worker in Schools (SWIS), at the District’s annual Learning and the Brain conference and at Byng Elementary’s Family Math Night.
When I do an information night at a school, I share specific examples from classrooms in the school. I have to have spent some time with the students and the staff to be able to speak a bit about the experiences the students are having. I always remind parents that the curriculum is enacted in different ways and that they should speak directly to their child’s classroom teacher if they have any questions. When I presented at Quilchena last week, most of the staff also attended and there was a very large turnout of parents. I had worked in the intermediate classrooms two years ago looking at alternate ways of assessing mathematical understanding and last year I worked in the primary classrooms around developing number sense, particularly through number talks. This year I was also fortunate to attend the school’s fall farmers’ market which was a great example of an authentic mathematical experience for students, building on the financial literacy component of the math curriculum.
At the presentation at the Thompson Community Centre for new immigrant parents, the parents graciously listened to my presentation, waiting for the translation from Lily, one of our SWIS workers. They enjoyed playing along and thinking of different ways to solve math questions. They had genuine questions as they try to figure out the differences between how math was experienced for them before coming to Canada.
At Learning and the Brain, I presented two sessions for parents, also attended by some teachers. We looked at the foundational aspects of the current and “new” curriculum as well as many examples from Richmond classrooms along with ways to support children’s mathematical thinking.
On Tuesday evening, Byng Elementary hosted a Family Math Night, part of a three journey focusing on their school goal of developing computational fluency. I have spent a lot of time in Byng classrooms, with teachers on pro-d days and last year at a parent information evening to develop an understanding of mathematics and how to nurture fluency and flexibility in mathematical thinking. I shared a brief overview of the curriculum and how fluency in reading can be compared to fluency in doing mathematics – being able to write the answers for a series of questions (like being able to “read” the words on a page) doesn’t necessarily mean you are actually doing math (or reading). There needs to be thinking and understanding (comprehension) involved in order to be fluent – to be literate and numerate. We talked about the importance of “practice” in becoming fluent and the students enjoyed playing all sorts of math games with their parents for the rest of the evening. The staff put together a great handout of games that the families could take home and the school’s vice-principal read the students some “Bedtime Math” stories.
The staff put up a comments and questions “chalkboard” in the gym and the comments at the end of the night reflected such a positive attitude towards math.
A brochure created by the BC Association of Mathematics Teachers helps explains the importance of how learning basic facts and being computationally fluent to parents and the broader community. You can find it here:
BCAMT Basic Facts Brochure
Very similar questions often emerge when I am discussing mathematics education with parents – it is okay to send them to Kumon? (I ask consider parents to think about why they are sending them and remind them that arithmatic/calculations are just one part of a much larger mathematics curriculum) how come you don’t teach the old way of doing things? (many teachers teach traditional algorithms alongside more conceptually-focused methods and strategies, we honour what students know and bring to the classroom but also recognize the importance of students having a wide repertoire of strategies and methods to draw upon and that having a repertoire of strategies actually represents a deeper level of understanding of number; international research has also shown us that students that are just memorizers of facts and procedures are the least successful in mathematics) how come students don’t get more math homework? (teachers are not required to assign homework, when homework is given, it should be meaningful practice based on content that students have already learned; there is scarce research evidence to support the effectiveness of homework on student achievement) how can I learn math the way my kids are? (attend parent information events at your child’s school or within our district, read the BCAMT brochure mentioned above, talk to your child’s teachers, read the district math and science blog; many of our elementary schools have mental math strategy posters up in their classrooms – have a look!)
Teachers and parents need to work together to support our children’s thinking and learning – it takes a village!