11/17/2018 6 Comments
How to Support Your Child Through Middle & High School Math (while keeping your cool!)
Tips to Help Your Own Parent-Teen Relationship Navigate the Tears, Frustration, and Challenges of Math Homework
But most families do not have the option of so many helpful siblings on hand. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher (or both), you’ve probably considered and debated the best way to guide the parent-student homework process with all its struggles.
When your child is near tears (or actually in tears) from frustration, it can be hard to hold back from “holding their pencil” in math. On the flipside, you may be apt allow your child to figure it out completely on his or her own, increasing independence and confidence in math.
On the other end, I know teachers have just as much frustration when a student does perfectly on homework, but clearly doesn’t know the content on tests without help from mom or dad. OR when they could really use some parent intervention, but they aren’t stepping up.
So, what is the right path in all of this?
It’s an ongoing balancing act. A great math education does include parent involvement, just not too much. I’ve laid out some do’s and don’ts when it comes to supporting your child through middle school and high school math. Teachers, you can use this information to educate the parents of your students. Feel free to pass on the link.
1. Do focus on the how
First and foremost, instead of drilling your child with steps and math facts, make sure they understand how the problem and solution works. Show him or her how to focus on concepts rather than procedural knowledge. This might help some children approach and solve problems in a new, different way—one that makes more sense to them.
Ask your child to explain a problem on the assignment using his or her own words. Encourage him or her to elaborate by asking questions focusing on the “why” of the problem, by asking questions like, “Why does this work?”
According to The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, “Shifting the focus in math class away from answers and toward methods has huge implications for student learning. It prompts teachers to plan lessons around deep mathematical ideas and to ask questions that get students’ reasoning in focus. It encourages students to develop or try new strategies. It can even get students asking their own questions and justifying conjectures that hit at the heart of mathematics. To really help our students “get it,” I’d choose methods over answers any day.”
But even more importantly than the “how” of the actual lesson content, teach your teen how to get the information he/she needs!
Teachers do not expect you to know how to solve their math problems at this level. When we ask for support at home, what you can really do that is most helpful is guide them with questions such as:
“How can we find this topic in your notebook?”
“Who might be a good reference to help us here?”
“What can we find online that will offer some sample problems that we can look at together and break down?"
“Would taking a break help, and then we can revisit this with a fresh look after a snack?”
“Wow you are feeling really stuck here, huh? Can we find a video of someone explaining it in a different way?”
2. Do admit if you don’t fully understand
It’s important for your child to understand that it’s ok to not know the answer. (This can help your child overcome math anxiety.) What’s not ok is giving up. Show your child ways he or she can be a problem-solver. Can you find help by analyzing a previous problem? Or flipping back in the textbook? Or in your notes? Or searching on Youtube or google? There are so many strategies you can teach your child, just by being a good problem-solving role model!
3. Do encourage your child
Do your best to always be positive and encouraging. Even if they come to an incorrect answer, find logic in their thinking.
So often, the root of the problem is a feeling of being discouraged, or a deeper level of stress. Do you notice anger, tears, avoidance, or even outbursts? These are signs to be aware of - Check out tips for math anxiety here.
4. Do your own research beforehand
If you do want to dive deep and actually work together on the math content as more of a tutor role, do a little prep work. No matter how great you were in math, it’s been a while! Even as a math teacher, if I am working with a student or class on lesson content that I have not seen in a while, I have to review for myself beforehand.
The tutor-style parent role is not for everyone. Do not feel the need to learn your whole course of Algebra over again. But if you find yourself wanting to really do this alongside your child, and your relationship supports it, go ahead!
Instead of wasting time and trying to learn a new concept along with your child, either take a few minutes to learn beforehand or go into a separate room. I suggest searching on youtube or Khan Academy; you can find some helpful videos.
This way, you can be an efficient guide in your child’s learning.
5. Do look at your options
Do you have a babysitter, neighbor, aunt or uncle, cousin, grandparent, or other person you can pass this off on? If your particular parent-teen relationship does not do well with this daily challenge, you can save everyone from a lot of extra stress and frustration by asking someone who cares about your teen to take over here. Can they do daily homework over a facetime call with a godparent? Can they walk to a neighbor’s house and work through this each day with someone who may be retired and happy to spend the time?
Often, there are people in your teen’s life who would love to help out! And it can be a much smoother process that way. For some parents, letting this go can improve the relationship with your teen so much! Spend your hour together each night doing something you enjoy once they have finished their homework outside of your view. Suddenly, your evenings together are much more pleasant!
6. Do make it fun and creative!
Have you tried doodle notes for your child to use as a review? This is a way that they can incorporate their own creativity. This visual, interactive method boosts brain processing to increase focus and memory.
Click here to purchase the full course of Pre-Algebra doodle notes for your child or class.
1. Don’t just do it for them
I’d like to think to this goes without saying, but sometimes parents forget or don’t even realize what they’re doing. Parents have to push aside the instinct of doing the solving, even though it might be easier or quicker. It’s just not helpful for your child.
2. Don’t show frustration and confusion
It’s ok to admit you don’t understand, but try not to show signs of frustration and stress. Instead, show your child how to focus and overcome that frustration. Yes, this is hard!! We may have had a rough day as a parent, and then have to deal with the attitudes that come out over math homework. It is tough! Take deep breaths, stay calm, and be an effective problem-solver.
3. Don’t over-emphasize that there can only be one correct answer
Many times in math we focus only on whether the answer is correct or incorrect. Of course, your child will be right or wrong, and the answer matters. But try to praise the steps that are correct, and the thought processes. Sometimes even with an incorrect final answer, the student is 98% there on understanding.
Almost all math teachers grade based on partial credit. A five-step problem that has all the work correct, but a small mistake that results in a incorrect answer will often earn a 4/5. Try to keep that in mind on homework as well. The successes are worth celebrating! Be sure that your child feels the positivity of each part that is right.
Remember that ultimately it’s more important they understand the process. In the book, Making Sense: Teaching and Learning Mathematics with Understanding the authors argue that math is a subject with a right answer, but that students can intuitively create their own strategies for solving problems. They encourage teachers to frame their teaching around student-created strategies. “Engaging in open, honest, public discussions of methods is the best way to gain deeper understandings of the subject”
Want to feel more equipped to support your student?
Download these 8 free apps that will help you help your teen through math homework.
I hope this post helps you, either as a parent or as a resource to pass on to the parents of your students. Teaching math oftentimes requires parent involvement, and with it we can make math more engaging, meaningful, and effective! Chime in below with comments if you have insight from either the parent or teacher perspective (or tutor, sister, etc.)!
12/6/2018 02:25:15 am
One of my biggest frustrations in life is the fact that I did not take mathematics seriously. I had a rough time understanding Mathematics when I was still a student. Now, I am thinking of how can I help my future kid if ever they will be asking me several question about math problems. I honestly don't know how to face that situation. But thank you for the tips. Indeed, all I need to do is to genuine care for my kids and admit if there are some part I don't know so I could not mislead them.
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5/24/2021 11:54:42 am
My son is having a hard time with math this year. I would like to get him a tutor to help. I appreciated your tip about encouraging them, and I will try to do that.
12/2/2021 06:00:53 pm
I thought it was interesting when you mentioned that helping a teen through math classes is about balancing it constantly. My son is going to be in a tough math class next semester, but I always struggled in this subject so I don't know if I will be able to help him. I would think that a math tutor would be a great way for him to be successful in his class.
12/7/2021 07:45:24 am
Luckily those negative aspects are preventable by making homework an important priority for your family and trying out these tips. Thank you so much!
6/20/2022 07:09:43 am
Keep up this amazing work! I enjoyed reading it
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