By Rachel Plucker and Linsdey Dunnavant
Math is essential to everyday life, yet more than 50% of middle and high school students plan to drop math as soon as they can, and 60% of future jobs depend on math. This was a theme of a session from the recent National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference that Rachel Plucker and Lindsey Dunnavant attended in April. Lorraine Howard of Wilkes University presented these stats as well as many others.
What can parents do to ensure their elementary and middle school students enjoy math and stay with it?
Familial mindsets matter. Research shows familial influence on learning is formidable and enduring. This comes from Dr. Carrie S. Cutler, University of Houston. According to Cutler, “children often emulate parent’s attitudes toward learning.“
More than 50% of middle and high school students plan to drop math as soon as they can, yet 60% of future jobs depend on math.
Summer is an ideal time for slowing down, enjoying family and friends, and learning. What? Learning? Many parents have great intentions to keep their children learning over the summer. The easiest way for most parents is to grab a workbook for their child and have them work a few minutes every day. Yes, this is easy, but does it help? The Brooking Institute notes that children typically lose a month’s worth of learning over the course of the summer. With all our good intentions, what can we do to keep math sharp while making it fun?
As parents, there are many activities we can engage our children in that keep math skills sharp without the drudgery of a workbook. The key is to make it natural. Think about your daily life and how math is involved.
We'll be counting cows
Going on a road trip this summer? Younger students might enjoy playing math car games. Pick an item to be counted such as red cars, cows, or Alexander Shunnarah billboards. To make the game fun for older students, you might turn the game into an addition or subtraction game by assigning points to car colors. A white car might be worth one point, a red maybe five, but a purple car might gain ten points. If an opposing player spots an unusual vehicle like an RV or motorcycle, then their opponent must subtract five points from their total.
Another fun game to play on long car trips is Number Hunt. Students look on passing signs, billboards, and license plates for numbers. For K-1 students, you could count by 1’s (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) with the first person to 100 as the winner. For 2nd-4th grade students, you might increase the difficulty by hunting for even or odd numbers up to 100. You might also search signs for prime numbers. They could also count by twos, threes, fours, etc. Fourth and fifth graders might search for numbers that make equations. For example, a child finds a two and a four on a sign and knows that if those numbers are multiplied together they get eight, so they are now searching for the number eight. This could also work for division. A white board and marker set is a great go to for long car rides.
Are we there yet?
For older students when traveling, involve your child in the planning. How many miles away is Disney World? If we drive about 65 mph, how long will it take us to get there? Shall we plan to stop? If so, how will that impact our travel time? How much will gas cost if our car gets 17 mpg on average? These are all simple tasks that children can figure out with pencil and paper or a calculator. When you go out to eat, have your late elementary and middle school children begin to calculate the tip. Figuring out a 20% tip is an easy concept and reinforces lots of math fluency skills (percentages, rounding, and adding decimals), not to mention kindness to our servers.
As a family, think about games that you can play to keep number skills sharp. Monopoly and Life are good games that involve counting money, while patterns and geometry are met easily through a game of Quirkle. Pull out an old Battleship game to practice coordinate graphing, and Sudoku is great for reasoning. Strategy games that promote logical thinking skills like Mancala, Othello, Chess, or Checkers are fun and a great brain exercise. Sign up for the “Games for Young Minds” Newsletter and get many more ideas in your inbox. A regular deck of cards or a pair of dice offer numerous possibilities. Marilyn Burns has some great dice games.
The App store (Mac) has some good digital games too for summer math practice that kids can find fun.
At home with math
In the kitchen, look for ways to incorporate your children into cooking. Have them double a recipe and measure out ingredients. Give older children $20 to come up with a meal idea and execute the idea to feed the whole family.
Like sports? Engage your child in Fantasy Sports. Summer is baseball season and there is a lot to calculate in baseball: batting average, pitcher’s ERA, RBIs, on base percentage, etc. Checkout this Fantasy Baseball workbook or research your lineup here.
In the yard, grow vegetable or plant flowers. How far apart should you plant? How fast should your plants grow? Again, how much do plants cost? What is the difference in cost of a seed versus an established plant. Is the price difference worth it?
Books about math
Read about math. There are many interesting mathematicians who have made great discoveries that make for good stories, as well as well as other math books we have found to be popular with our students.
The Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Math and Magic in Wonderland (Math and Magic Adventures) by Lilac Mohr
Knights of the Round Table - The Sir Circumference Series
The Money Book by Jamie Kyle McGillian
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norman Juster
The I Hate Mathematics! Book by Marilyn Burns
G is for Googol; A Math Alphabet Book by David M. Schwartz
Another fun family activity is to look for BAD MATH. Misleading sales and advertisements that are incorrect can really grab a kid's attention about why math matters. Always be on the lookout, as we do not proofread nearly as well as we used to!
Spending as little as 10 minutes a day adds up to over 10 hours of math practice for the summer. Enjoy your summer and be on the lookout for math everywhere.
Rachel Plucker has taught math to all Middle School grades (5-8) and coached the 5/6 math team at Randolph since 2011. Mrs. Plucker has another six years of experience teaching at independent schools and 19 years of teaching experience overall. She has a master's degree in education from Samford. "As a parent, I am teaching our oldest how to calculate tips, and trying my best to teach them how to save. We do timed races for chores, and we love to bake together using measuring skills."
Lindsey Dunnavant teaches 4th grade and just completed her 14th year of teaching. Before coming to Randolph in 2011, Mrs. Dunnavant, who has her master's in gifted education, was the gifted specialist at Whitesburg Middle School, where she taught enrichment and collaborated with teachers. In addition, she was the debate coach and the academic team, robotics, and Future City sponsor. She has also taught kindergarten and 3rd grades and is endorsed in Early Childhood Education. She adds, "This summer, my school-age child is learning about money by running a lemonade stand, managing allowance for chores completed and learning to add time."