Learning and the Brain 2015: Supporting Your Child’s Mathematical Thinking

Posted on: January 26th, 2015 by jnovakowski

On Saturday, January 24th I presented a session to about seventy parents at our district’s annual Learning and the Brain conference. I shared information about our BC mathematics curriculum which is publicly accessible to all and is legally mandated for teachers to teach and assess. Many of the parents didn’t realize that the curriculum was actually required and consistent across BC.

Current K-7 Mathematics Curriculum (2007)

Redesigned K-9 Mathematics Framework (draft)

I shared how the curriculum may be enacted in classrooms, with examples from our Richmond classrooms, emphasizing the autonomy teachers have to implement the curriculum in their classrooms. We discussed, and the parents had lots of good questions about the curriculum’s focus on problem-solving, computational fluency and communication of mathematical thinking. We clarified what problem-solving is (not necessarily “traditional word problems”) in that problems might be open-ended and have multiple possible answers (ie. How many ways can you make 72?)  or have multiple ways of coming to a solution. Computational fluency was compared to reading fluency – reading is not just being able to read a list of words, it is creating meaning and understanding the text that is being read. And in mathematics, being computationally fluent does not mean you can answer questions accurately and quickly but that you can work flexibly and fluently with numbers and understand what you are doing. We discussed that we know that students who are able to solve a question such as 48 + 37 in many ways (using number-based strategies) have a greater depth in understanding of both number and operations than a student who relies on one memorized algorithm. The parents who attended this session were very curious about the strategies their students are learning at school, as these were not “thinking” strategies that they had learned during their schooling.

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I also provided some suggestions for ways parents could support their students’ mathematical thinking at home.

Ways to think and talk about math at home:

  • ž Talk about math being useful and enjoyable
  • ž Explain how you use math in your daily life
  • ž Emphasize that computation is just one small part of what mathematics is
  • ž Play math-focused games as a family – Chess, Checkers, Backgammon, Scrabble, Monopoly, Cribbage, card games
  • Highlight how math is used to communicate and make information meaningful – weather, graphs in the newspaper, sports statistics

If your child has math homework…

  • ž Have a basket of tools your child might need, appropriate for the age level (counters, ruler, eraser, calculator, graph paper)
  • ž If you and your child are unsure about the math or the homework, please make sure to ask your child’s teacher
  • ž Interactive Math Glossary


ž Questions and prompts to support your child…

  • —  What do you need to do to get started?
  • —  Have you done a question/problem like this before?
  • —  How is the question/problem like something you have done before? What could you use from that to help you with this?
  • —  Is there another way you could do this?
  • —  What could help you with this? Is there information you need? Where could we find it? Is there a tool you need?
  • Does this make sense to you? Could you explain it to someone else?

As a parent myself, I know that all parents want their children to be successful at school and want to support their children the best they can. This session reminded me of how important the teacher-parent relationship is, as we work together to support student learning.


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