My Books

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Making Math Fun

Guest blogger, Allison Boley, is sharing today about how to make math fun for your kids. A physics PhD student at Arizona State University, she has a new iPhone and iPad kids app called Fun Math at the Ballpark (K-6th grade). You can see samples of it on her Facebook page at even before its anticipated release date of July 18. I highly recommend downloading it and using it with your kids to make math more fun! Not to mention it will keep them busy at baseball games or any other place they may need to keep from being bored.

A near-drowning incident when she was a teenager spawned my grandmother's lifelong fear of the water. When she gave birth to my mom and my aunt, my grandmother—understanding how important it was for their safety to be able to swim—chose not to pass along her fear. By the time my sisters, my cousins, and I came along, we were taking swim lessons in her backyard pool every summer, and sometimes she even joined us in the shallow end.

Like my grandmother, you may have had a near-drowning incident, but it may not have been in the water. More likely, it was in math. You might be like my mother, who used her long hair to hide her (lack of) algebra answers from her teacher when he walked by her desk. If so, you’ll want to follow her example in another area and avoid passing along your fear of math to your kids. Here are some practical ideas.

1. Recognize the math around you.

Take a whole day to be alert to the presence of math that you already engage in. Notice how by the power of geometry your key fits into the lock on your front door and other keys don't. Take the time to look at the percentage sales tax on your receipts. Observe the patterns on your bathroom or kitchen floor. Appreciate the symmetry in your clothing (the left side is the mirror image of the right side).

Recognizing the pervasiveness of math in everyday life convinces us of its importance. In the same way that my grandmother recognized the importance of swimming to her children's physical survival, you're probably reading this blog post because you already recognize the importance of math to your children's academic and maybe even economic survival. CORDIS, the European Union’s public portal to research results, puts it well: “…almost every job area today is strongly affected, if not entirely reshaped, by scientific and technological advancements.” Math is the foundation of science and technology, and consequently, proficiency in math will increasingly become a vital job skill in your children's lifetimes. We literally cannot afford to pass along our own math phobias.

2. Find something you like about math.

Maybe you hated every aspect of math in high school, but you're not a teenager anymore. You have a different perspective than you did when you were 17. You've learned some patience and if you read Linda's blog, you've learned a lot of positivity. So find something about math that makes you smile.

If you can't find something on your own, try building a story around your children's math problems. Instead of 3 + 2, it's 3 dragons you must defeat and 2 castles to win, or 3 play cars and 2 toy people. If your child's homework already has a word problem, make it bigger by asking why. If Susan has a piece of string that she wants to cut into 3 equal pieces, why does she want to do that? Is she making ribbons for her hair? If so, why? Is she trying to fit in with the popular crowd? Use the opportunity to teach life lessons in addition to math.

3. Value the challenge of math.

Even if there's nothing inherent in math that you can enjoy, you can partake of that marvelous feeling of conquering something that challenged you. Danica McKellar, author of books like Math Doesn't Suck, encourages girls in particular to intentionally challenge themselves, and to view the difficulty of math as part of a larger picture of building character. You can model the character traits of patience and perseverance for your children in your own interaction with math and teach them the importance of not giving up.

And be sure to celebrate! When your child overcomes a difficult problem, tell them what a great job they did. When they finish a particularly odious homework assignment, reward them with play time or television or whatever is appropriate in your household. (Don't reward them with junk food... but that's a different blog.) The end of a grueling semester or school year is a great time for a trip to the toy store. Build that good feeling of conquering challenges so that they approach new obstacles with courage instead of fear.
Even if you had an actual-drowning experience in math, don't worry. By changing your own attitudes towards math, you can pass along your newfound confidence to your children and prepare them for math and for life.

Were (or are) you afraid of math? In the comments below, share specific ways you're choosing not to pass your fear of math along to your children.