Parents often ask me about ways they can supplement their child’s math learning at home. Usually, their motivation is to make sure their child excels and has confidence. I will answer that question, but first I think it is very important to settle on what math is.
What is Math Really About?
Most people would say math is about arithmetic, variables, and equations among other things. This view reduces math to a collection of skills, definitions, and procedures. Sadly, this is a view held by most students and adults alike, and it is a direct result of how we teach math in school. (Don’t get me wrong, these skills are very important, but to focus only on these skills is to miss out on the beauty of mathematics)
The truth is that math is about investigating patterns dealing with quantity, structure, and space. Mathematicians pose questions and then try to explain things simply as possible. This view of math allows for creativity, logic, reason, intuition and inspiration. That is what makes math fun and engaging, and it’s what we want our kids to discover and embrace.
The Real Tools of Teaching Math – Games, puzzles, and brain teasers.
Too often parents focus on how to accelerate their child through the school curriculum. The idea is to master one skill after another to get ahead. To reach that end, the tools of choice tend to be worksheets, flash cards, and computer programs. These tools can be useful if you are trying to supplement math skill development and memorization because your child isn’t picking it all up in school. However, these tools are focused on teaching skills, and for the most part, kids don’t find them all that fun. The worst part is they remove the most beautiful aspects of math. I want to implore parents to also think about how to teach the other aspects of math that make it an amazingly intriguing and rich field.
To that end, the best tools I know of are games, puzzles and brain teasers. Parents can show their kids the beauty of math by playing games and working to solve puzzles and brain teasers together. A huge added benefit is that by doing these things together, you are guaranteed to share “aha” moments with your child that neither of you will ever forget.
Develop New Attitudes
The attitudes we want to cultivate using these tools are:
- Perseverance – Too often students get conditioned to think math problems should be quickly solved because of the way we teach math — teacher gives an example of how to do a problem, and then student repeatedly practices that until it is “mastered”.
- Confidence – Each time a student perseveres and solves a challenging problem, their confidence naturally grows by leaps and bounds.
- Acting on Instinct – As more and more challenges are completed, the student hones their instinct on what will work best for a new problem. As a result, they solve problems faster and more efficiently.
- Creativity and Wonder – When working a challenging problem, try several new solution strategies and see if they work. Once a problem is solved, think about ways to extend it. This will stimulate more creativity and wonder.
Games You Can Play
(FYI – ThinkFun and Gamewright games are available at our center. Call 614-792-6284 if you are interested.)
Tip: When you play, discuss your strategies out loud. This will allow your child to learn more advanced strategies without feeling like you are explaining things to them. In addition, they explain their strategies, and you get valuable insight into what they see and how they think.
Books You Can Read
- Becoming a Problem Solving Genius – Edward Zaccaro
- Creative Problem Solving – Dr. George Lenchner
- Math Olympiad Contest Problems (Volume 1) – Dr. G. Lenchner
- Math Olympiad Contest Problems (Volume 2) – Dr. G. Lenchner
Websites to Explore
- Puzzles.com – logic puzzles and much more. Try family brainstorms.
- krazydad.com – Free printable puzzles (Sudoku, KenKen, Kakuro, etc)
- figurethis.org – Math challenges (check out the math index)
Tip: Work on puzzles and brain teasers together. When you think you’ve solved it, try to explain it as simply as possible using words, pictures, diagrams, or equations. Then extend the problem by making some new conjectures and then test them out.