Have you ever heard anyone say that they’re really bad at math? Do you sometimes say this about yourself? The answer is probably yes. Have you ever heard anyone volunteer that they are bad readers? Probably not. The same is not true for reading. Our society seems to believe that it is acceptable to be bad at math and that it’s just fine to talk about it. If we want to inspire our children to be great mathematicians, our conversation about math needs to evolve. We need to change our attitude about math.
Positive communication with children about mathematics should be a new rule. If we reinforce negative attitudes about math, it becomes even more difficult for our kids to believe in themselves and have the ability to be the very best they can be. Building a positive mathematical mindset needs to be our focus for children.
Children need to be able to vocalize their confidence and believe in themselves; their mathematical identity should be a positive one. A positive attitude about math helps nurture skills that are developed by mathematics including abstract and spatial thinking, creativity, reasoning, critical thinking, and the ability to solve problems.
At Yokayo Elementary, we work on teaching a balance of conceptual mathematics and computational fluency. Conceptual mathematics focus on talking and writing about mathematics to deepen familiarity and understanding of the concepts. Computational fluency includes being able to add, subtract, multiply and divide quickly and efficiently.
Teachers at Yokayo use math journals every day to get students to write about their own math experience. If a student can get their ideas on paper, they must first organize, clarify, and reflect on their thinking. All of this significantly contributes to learning. Students share their journals and writing with each other which builds community and gives our students the opportunity to learn from each other. Our teachers also collaborate with each other strengthening their instruction through a lesson study process. They find out what works best and learn from each other.
When communicating about math and math concepts with children, I always recommend a growth mindset. When a student doesn’t understand something you should say, “You don't understand it YET, but you will.” Yet is the important word here. It gives children a little light at the end of a tunnel that can be frustrating and confusing.
It is important to do everything we can to give our children the best possible experience with math so they can have a positive experience lasting a lifetime. Here are a few things that parents can do:
- Always have a positive attitude about math and communicate in a positive way.
- There is evidence that board games like Chutes and Ladders give students a good sense of what a number line looks like and card games give children counting skills and the ability to make comparisons.
- Two great websites about math for children are www.prodigygame.com and www.mathplayground.com.
- Engage and interact with your children when they are doing their homework.
- Work with your children on math skills appropriate to the grade they are in.
- Relate mathematics to real life problems and find solutions together.
A good attitude can make a huge difference in whatever our children are learning, especially math. Studies have shown that a positive attitude toward mathematics can improve grades. If we can change the way we feel and communicate about math to create a positive math attitude, math skills and self-esteem are sure to follow.