Helping Your Child Build a Greater Depth of Understanding in Math
You may have heard education experts, researchers or media outlets refer to mathematics curriculum in the United States as being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The problem with math education, according to many, is that U.S. math teachers have historically been asked to cover far too many topics in each grade, resulting in students who have only a vague understanding of a lot of areas rather than a deep understanding of fewer, more essential topics. Students are introduced to advanced concepts haphazardly and before they have had an opportunity to master certain basic skills.
Of course, the Common Core State Standards are changing all that. Researchers “have concluded that mathematics education in the United States must become substantially more focused and coherent in order to improve mathematics achievement in this country,” (corestandards.org). As a result, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics will embody these three key shifts:
Greater focus on fewer topics
Linking topics and thinking across grades
More rigorous overall (educators must help students gain a conceptual understanding of key math concepts, procedural skills and fluency, and application in situations that require mathematical knowledge)
How can you help your child learn to apply math and use it as a problem-solving tool? Here are a few tips for parents when helping their child with homework:
Have your child talk through math rules. As your child completes homework, periodically have him or her point out to you when a math rule is used and where that rule comes from.
Explain the thinking. Even in the simplest math, have your child explain how he or she draws conclusions and why. That cognitive process is becoming more important in math than ever.
Try different methods to solve problems. Children should practice using different approaches to solving the same problem and identify similarities among those different methods.
Encourage students to visualize math problems. Help your child draw out visual representations of figures or numbers. For example, your child should be able to show what something (a shape, for example) would look like when divided up into fractions.
Have your child talk about wrong answers. Just as students should know how to “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” (per the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice), it is helpful for children think through incorrect answers and share their conclusions on why a certain answer to a problem is right and another is wrong.
Use math in everyday life. Your child should practice writing down mathematical equations and assumptions when trying to solve real-world problems. He or she should use tools to aid understanding whenever it makes sense—tools such as graphs, equations and flowcharts.
Pay attention to detail. The new standards expect students to be precise when discussing math and working on math problems. Encourage your child to label his or her work, be neat and explain the symbols used in various mathematical equations. Precision and accuracy is important.
As the Standards for Mathematical Practice state, “students who lack understanding of a topic may rely on procedures too heavily.” Although you may not feel equipped to help your child through probability and statistics homework, you can nurture his or her acquisition of a conceptual understanding of math. Encourage your child to make connections between mathematical ideas and life, use reasoning when working on math, and think critically about how math plays a role in day-to-day life. To learn more about the Common Core State Standards for Math, visit www.corestandards.org.
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