How do you find the parents of your students? Are they helping their children to learn, or are they more of a hindrance?

Some parents can be incredibly difficult to cope with, of course. And sometimes an assertive manner and explaining the boundaries between their opinions and your professional work is called for.

But apart from those difficult parents, I strongly believe that parents should be kept informed about what we are teaching, and generally we should involve them as partners in their children’s education.

If you are going through a hard time coping with the parents of your students, please forgive me if my comments are off base or have caused you any offence; that is never my intention.

But if you agree that working with parents is a good thing, do share your tips below on how to achieve this goal.

What are pseudocontexts, and should K-6 math teachers be concerned about them?

I came across the term in Dan Meyer’s excellent blog, in which he explores better ways of engaging students in learning math, and calls out “fake math” and poor teaching. You should go check out Dan’s work, I find it really challenging and encouraging.

As a publisher of educational content for K-6 math, I am deeply concerned about students’ recognition of the importance and the usefulness, the utility of the math they learn.

This means that I am always looking for ways to show students examples of math in real life. But does that mean I have to restrict my examples to ones where someone is asking a specific math question that matches the topic students are learning, or can I ask questions which someone might ask, but probably didn’t?

What do you think? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share your thoughts.

Recent examples of “math in real life contexts” are found in my Where’s the Math? video series, which you can see here. Am I guilty of introducing pseudocontexts?

Are you getting a little tired of other people interfering in how you teach in your classroom?

I see around the world teachers being put under greater and greater pressure to perform, as if they were mere employees or servants of the state. And I’m over it!

Most politicians have never taught a day in their lives, from what I can tell. How dare they act like teachers should somehow get more motivated to achieve higher results, for the good of the nation?

Now, of course the curriculum is important, as I say in the video. But bureaucrats and nit-pickers seem to think that teachers need to stop being so opinionated, and just accept that they are there to do the will of their masters. Arrggghhhh!!! What doctor, engineer or lawyer would accept such treatment?

So let’s stand up for professional autonomy in our classrooms, go out and do an outstandingly excellent job, for our students, their families, and of course our nations.

Do you use technology as much as you’d like to help your K-6 students understand math? How do students respond to tech? Would they actually prefer old school resources?

Have you started using Snapchat yet? Would you like daily K-6 math videos to start conversations? Follow me: petes_classroom

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

The big message in the video is this: it’s not about the technology. A great teacher can use any resources, or none at all, to effectively teach students what they are ready to learn.

That said, we should test new technologies to see how they can help our students to learn. No technology is capable, in itself, of “revolutionizing learning” (how often do we hear that phrase?). But in the hands of a competent teacher, technologies open up new possibilities and new opportunities to present content to students in new ways.

In the busyness of classroom teaching, do you find math lessons becoming a bit stale? Are textbook lessons getting you and your students down a bit?

I believe that students crave interesting, relevant lessons, especially in math. How can we provide such lessons?

It’s a simple idea: find real math going on in the world around you and bring it to the children’s attention.

In the video I talk a bit about the new kitchen we’re having put in. There’s a heap of math that the builders have to get right, including measurement, simple arithmetic and three-dimensional geometry.

What can you talk about with your students? Here are some ideas:

Real-Life Contexts for K-6 Math: Some Suggestions

Take photos with your smartphone, add them to PowerPoint slides, ask students “What do you notice?” or “What questions are you thinking of?”

Talk about shopping experiences where you had to figure out a best buy, someone gave you the wrong change or something cool happened

Explain how you adapted a recipe for a different number of servings

Talk about your favourite sport and how rankings work, and how many points teams have to win to come out on top this season

Talk about designing something cool, such as a garden, a craft project, a greeting card or a decorated cake

What ideas have you used to bring classroom math to life? Leave a comment below.

Have you ever felt like banging your head on the wall when trying to get kids to learn something? Do you feel you’re not up to the task of “getting through to these kids” and making them learn something?

Here’s a simple suggestion from me: trust the kids’ natural abilities to make sense of their world.

Don’t sit on your hands and leave it all in the kids’ hands, of course: that isn’t what I mean.

But allow the capabilities built into every human being to “kick in” in response to your input. It’s your job to create the best atmosphere for learning to take place; you just don’t have to make it happen due to your force of character, cajoling, pleading or other desperate tactics.

Do you wonder about the wisdom of sending math homework home? Have you ever had a sneaky suspicion that parents may actually not be helping their kids learn math?

Well, now there’s evidence that supports your caution.

Research: Do Parents Help, or Hinder Their Kids’ Math Learning?

If you have any interest in helping kids with their math learning, I urge you to watch the video, then go and read this article:

Briefly, the findings of this year-long research using children in grades 1 and 2 and their parents were:

Parents who reported math anxiety themselves, and who helped their children with math homework resulted in children who:

were more anxious about math themselves

learned less math over the year

Reading scores were not affected

Parents who did not help with math homework had no significant effect

This is a hugely important set of findings. I believe all K-6 math teachers should address the issues here, for the sake of their students’ learning.

Suggestions for Every K-6 Math Teacher:

Don’t set math homework that is likely to cause stress or anxiety in parents who themselves are not confident in math

Talk to parents about the messages they send (often unwittingly) to their children about math and math learning

Make suggestions to parents about low-stress ways to help their kids with math

Point out everyday activities that parents could use as springboards for incidental math conversations:

Shopping

Cooking

Budgeting

Deciding what to buy

Keeping track of sports scores, race times, etc.

Playing board games and dice games

Urge parents to let their children know that they believe in their children’s future success in math and to talk positively about how useful math is to all adults

Teachers recently told us, of all the K-6 math topics in the curriculum, which one they would most like help with.
Care to guess which topic came to the top of the list?

Most Challenging K-6 Math Topic

The “winner”: Place value. Close behind? Operations, followed by Number facts.

Since these three broad topics form the bulk of the mathematics curriculum, especially if you include fractions, perhaps this isn’t a big surprise. But another perspective is that, while these three form the backbone of the math curriculum, they are possibly the most abstract and the most difficult for children to understand.

Most Requested Resources

The followup question we asked was “If support for the above K-6 math topic were available, which of the following components would you like included?” The following possible components were listed:

Teacher information about recommendations for teaching the topic

Pretest to assess students’ learning prior to starting the topic

Video to set the scene / prompt discussion / show math in real life contexts

Video for teacher on recommended teaching

Instructional video for students

Hands-on learning activities

Worksheets

Differentiation activities for various levels of ability

Homework sheets

Parents information to explain homework

Posttest to assess students’ learning after learning the topic

The results? The top request, made by 85% of respondents, was “Hands-on learning activities”, followed by “Differentiation activities for various levels of ability”, and then “Video to set the scene / prompt discussion / show math in real life contexts“.

I am encouraged to see that teachers we have contacted want their students to have experiences with hands-on activities to help them learn math. As we all know, math is a highly abstract discipline, and traditionally it was taught around the symbols, which themselves are linked abstractly to the numbers which they represent. So to provide children with physical, hands-on ways to represent and play around with numbers is the way to help them to understand the subject, in my view.

What Next?

We are now starting development of a new package of resources to support teachers in their teaching of K-6 math. We will start with a small beta product, and put it out to a small group of our best supporters. All being well, this will then become available to others, via this website.

If you would like to be notified of when the package is publicly available, click the box below:

Teach times tables to children in grades K-6: this is arguably one of the most important jobs a K-6 teacher has.

Why Teach Times Tables? Surely Calculators Make Memorization Redundant?

This sounds a little plausible, but I encourage you to stop and imagine this scenario: first, you have to imagine that you’re a child, around 10 years old. You haven’t had the experiences that your future adult self will have. You’ve been told by teachers that you don’t have to learn math facts by heart. You have a calculator in your desk, and you are encouraged to use it.

Now, picture this: you are working out the perimeter of a 6 by 8 rectangle using the formula “P = 2x(L + W)”.

Imagine This: You are a Child Whose Teachers Did Not Teach Times Tables

You remember you should add the length and width first, but you don’t know what six plus eight equals, since you never learned the addition facts by heart either. You look around in your desk and find the calculator, switch it on, look at the question again, press “8”, “+”, “6”, “=” and see “14” in the display. “What does that mean?” you think. Oh yes, that’s what “L + W” equals. Somehow you figure out the next step is to multiply 2 by the number you just found. You pick up the calculator, press “2”, “x”, then ask “What do I times this by?”.

You have forgotten the answer and you didn’t write it down, so you start again: “8”, “+”, “6”, “=”. This time you take note of the answer, “14”. You look back at the formula again, and press “2”, “x”, recall the previous answer again, “1”, “4”, “=”, and see the display shows “28”. You quickly write “28” in the space for the answer and move on to the next question. Oh look, it’s another perimeter question – it will be quicker this time, because you know the sequence of steps you have to take.

This is what happens if no-one takes the time to teach times tables. Notice that not only does this imaginary child take much longer to complete this simple question than it would have been if tables were memorized, the child is repeatedly interrupted in working through the question to carry out mechanical actions, mostly the pressing of calculator buttons, with little or no thought of why he or she is carrying out the process in the first place.

I promise you this: from today onward, I will not apologize for expecting students to memorize the times tables.

I’ve had enough. Students who don’t know the multiplication facts by heart will not achieve much success, if any, in their future math studies. So why don’t we do more to get our students to memorize facts?

Teach Times Tables: A True But Sad Story

In the video: The experience I had recently watching Year 5 kids trying to do a multiplication test without knowing the times tables illustrated this perfectly for me.

Students simply had no idea of the times tables, and so most of them resorted to drawing arrays of dots and then counting the dots from 1. Of course, this was much too slow, and in addition students frequently made mistakes.

Infants as young as six months recognize interesting shapes. And babies who show higher spatial reasoning skills do better in math at age four. This is good news for parents and carers who purposefully try to help their children understand the world around them in explicitly mathematical ways: developing better spatial reasoning in infancy should result in better understanding of math generally when they start school.

Watch the video for more:

In this study, babies between six and thirteen months were shown images on two screens, where on one screen pairs of images appeared in a symmetrical arrangement. This caught the babies’ attention, and using eye-tracking technology the researchers were able to measure how often and for how long they focused on the more interesting images, and so deduce relative levels of spatial reasoning.

The really encouraging news for parents and carers who want to give their babies a head start before they start school is that higher abilities in spatial reasoning were associated with better math results at age four.

Since spatial reasoning is not a fixed ability but can be taught, I know what I will be doing when I get the chance with my grandchildren; all parents should do the same!

What do you think?

Does trying to expand young infants’ awareness of the world around them in targeted ways really help prepare them for school success? Share a comment below.