November 12, 2001
Guest Editorial: Math a survival skill
by David Beavers
Sitting down with two expert math teachers, I fidgeted with a piece of paper, anticipating a worthwhile conversation about the role of parents in helping their kids learn math. I would not be disappointed.
Bill Kring and Sherri Roberti, teachers in residence at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, are modest when it comes to talking about their expertise in the world of education. But talking to them, one can't help but feel a sense of reassurance that our children are in good hands.
"If I had a statement about learning math that I could make to parents," says Kring with thoughtful look in his eye, "it would be: Please don't ever say to your child, 'I could never do this myself, so you don't have to worry about it.'" Instead, encourage your child to take on the challenge, noting that things are different today.
"The necessary skills that a child is going to need mathematically to be a citizen of the earth are very different from the skills their parents needed to be a successful citizen," she says.
Bill and Sherri agree that parents play one of the biggest roles in a child's education. Besides encouraging a child's efforts, there are many things a parent can do. The obvious one is to help with homework, but even this can be a tricky task.
Kring claims that many parents either help their children too much with their homework, or not enough. Kids need to know that struggling with things is just another part of life. There are many parents who help their kids to the point where it ends up that the parents are doing the homework for the child. But, on the contrary, if a parent refuses to help at all, that child may get to a point where he or she gets frustrated and quits.
There are also alternatives to getting "the right" answer. According to Kring and Roberti, mental effort is becoming a lot more important in education today than just getting the answer, meaning thinking through the problems and steps. Even if children can't get the correct answer to a question, it's important that they show some signs of analytical thinking or trying to figure things out.
According to Kring, writing down the steps you took, and what you thought you were doing is a valuable tool to figure out where and how you got stuck. The teacher would be delighted to see students trying to analyze what they've done, and the analysis is of great help to the teacher to figure out how best to guide students.
Parents can also help their child outside of homework:"If they see parents estimating in the grocery store, if they hear the vocabulary in a common language rather than just a math lesson," claims Roberti, "the more comfortable they're going to be as they experience mathematics in the classroom."
It's a mathematical world - math teachers are helping students not only appreciate it but also to use it. It's a survival skill.
David Beavers is a journalism student at the University of Oregon and currently an intern at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.