Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Math: It’s What’s for Dinner

One of the more interesting dichotomies that strikes me about our culture is how biased educational activities are toward reading. For example, we have a ‘My Baby Can Read’ program that teaches young toddlers to read, but there is no similar product claiming to produce the next Einstein. In our culture, the path to genius is paved with letters, numbers need not apply.
This is wrong. Very wrong. It means that math literacy is left to the fates and a child’s own innate ability. And then everyone wonders why Johnny can’t do Algebra and why Jane doesn’t know a hypotenuse from a Manolo Blahnik. Like reading and language, acquisition of math literacy starts in infancy. It begins with pattern recognition. First knowing the routines of the day and week, then being able to put together puzzles or predict which color bead should come next on that necklace you’ll be receiving for Mother’s Day. Then counting followed by skip counting (which is often neglected until elementary school).

Most parents don’t spend any time on pattern recognition and counting*, which  undermines their child’s future math literacy.  However, you’d better believe they are reading a bed time story and singing the ABC song until they think their heads will explode. Reading is the Holy Grail of education. It gets almost all the attention and emphasis.
I see this all the time in the families I work with. They either ignore reading and math altogether, or only focus on reading–it’s patently obvious.  The times I give my students math tricks specifically to demonstrate over dinner, it never happens. Math is almost as bad a word as Voldemort in the Harry Potter books.  How many people know who Voldemort is versus how many can properly add fractions?  The fractions don’t even stand a chance.
So my proposal is this; Make math a family activity. Something that is discussed over dinner. Do story problems together. Play games. Learn about the history of mathematics together.Challenge your kids to make up their own math games and then play them.** Balance the checkbook. Whatever, just don’t ignore the numbers.
Here are a few resources for math games and activities:
25 Super Cool Math Boardgames is an inexpensive book I use often with my students. It contains versatile games covering basic math concepts including fractions and decimals.
40 Fabulous Math Mysteries for Kids is another inexpensive book that would be an ideal post-dinner activity for the whole family.
Fraction Cards are great for reinforcing basic fraction concepts over a friendly game of fraction rummy. It’s not as simple as it looks and my students can always be suckered into learning with a game.
Contig is available online and is a logic game that involves basic math operations. This is an easy way to reinforce basic math such as multiplication facts.
*In our culture, we, typically, make sure our kids can count and then don’t bother with it again.
**Although I will warn you that kids very often concoct much more intricate and difficult math problems than adults would choose. Also making up games not only keeps kids busy, it also works logic skills which are vital to math literacy.

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