The answer lies in a quote from Sara Vanderwerf. "What do mathematicians do? They notice patterns. They describe patterns; and they generalize patterns."
As parents, if we spend time with our children noticing the world around us, we can strengthen their math sense, and it will help in every area of mathematics. Here is an example of what I am referring to. The picture below is from a 7th grade assessment focusing on simple interest.
I don't want to go into a lesson on calculating simple interest, which the student was able to do (but with a 0.6% interest rate instead of 6%). What I want to point out is the answer to the second question. Do you know why the student multiplied 2,400 by 5?
This is an example of what Graham Fletcher calls "Number Plucking". I'm not sure if he coined the term, but he used it in a presentation at a conference I recently attended. The term refers to students who take numbers from the problem and perform an operation (like multiplication) without first making sense of the information. Graham pointed out that in lower elementary students have a 50% chance of getting it right because they are only working with addition and subtraction. When we add multiplication and division children will be correct 25% of the time. What does this mean for middle school and a simple interest problem like above?
While math facts and operations are an important part your child's math learning in school, the best thing parents can do is help them to understand number relationships, patterns, and making sense of the math in the world around them.
If all of this is hitting home with you and you are wondering where you would even begin to help your child in this way, here is my recommendation. Each week I receive a newsletter from a website called Table Talk Math. Jason Stevens, the creator of this site, is dedicated to helping parents build this sort of math thinking with their children. The free weekly newsletter has different conversation starters you can have around the dinner table (hence the name "Table Talk Math"), in the car, or wherever your summer takes you. In addition to the website, there is a Table Talk Math book available.
I was so excited about the ideas and potential conversations this book offers I wrote this review.
This book is a must buy for every parent. It teaches parents how to weave math conversations into the activities we are already doing as well as provide resources and websites if I want to know more. The focus of the book is on building number sense and mathematical thinking as opposed to specific concepts so it is applicable to all age ranges and the author, Jason Stevens, explains how the different conversations can be changed depending on the age range of the child. I can see myself rereading this book every spring thinking about my children’s current skills and interests.
I found this book through following the Table Talk Math website and receiving the newsletters. It suggests great topics of conversation to have with kids based on everyday things. With summer coming up, I want to support my children’s learning and help maintain their skills. In the past I have purchased workbooks with every intention of having my kids do a few pages a day. Unfortunately this never lasts long as our summer schedule gets busy (or perhaps more relaxed) and the workbooks just collect dust. Since I was enjoying the Table Talk Math newsletters, I bought this book hoping it would give me more examples of math we could talk about over the summer. It does that and so much more.
My favorite part of the book is at the end of each chapter, there are specific tips for how to talk to my child about math. Stevens shares ways to encourage your child and how to keep the conversation positive. (Trust me there have been many not so pleasant times together during the school year trying to work on homework together.)
The Table Talk Math book is easy to read and understandable for parents, no matter what your math comfort level is. I felt like I was having my own personal conversation with the author as he shared his experiences as a child, parent, and math teacher. Plus, I really can have conversations with the author as he is very accessible on Twitter and includes a hashtag for the book to continue the conversation online.
I encourage you to check out Table Talk Math. I would love to hear about your math conversations and experiences in the comment section below. You can also add questions you have and I will help you in any way I can.