Parent Math Nights: Doing the Math Your Children Do

A common theme this year for several parent math education nights and other meetings where our parents have been in attendance has been providing them with the opportunity to “do the math” that students are doing in their classrooms every day.

If you didn’t attend the elementary parent math night in November or the middle school math night on January 13th, where parents learned about the new math models and the more rigorous demands in the middle school math standards, you might wonder: What does it matter if I do the math?  Has math really changed that much since I went to school?

The answer to that is no.  The math has not changed.  But thankfully our math instruction is, because it is a well-known fact that the way math has been taught has not resulted in strong mathematical thinkers.  We need our parents to understand what the changes are in math instruction and why these changes are better for all math learners, even though the transition is unnerving and sometimes painful (for students, parents, and teachers).  Change is hard, and we need you to support your children’s teachers as they are making these changes in their instruction. We believe that if more parents participate in the mathematical practices their children are learning, they will see the benefits.  We’ve heard from parents who have attended these workshops that they have a better understanding of the shifts in math instruction, and we encourage them to respond to this post by letting other parents hear what discoveries they have made.

On January 13th, at our first PMS Parent Math Night, Dr. Cheryl Wozniak, the Director of Curriculum & Instruction, welcomed over 60 parents and explained that the purpose of the evening was for parents to “do math as students now do,” and experience Common Core-style math problems and problem-solving practices.

The parents were split into three smaller groups and then rotated through three classrooms.

In the Common Core 6 class, parents tackled the following geometry problem (geometric concepts are included in CC6, CC7 and CC8).

  • (1) Assume you have rope measuring 100 meters and four stakes to mark a plot of land.  If you want to have the largest plot possible, what should the dimensions of the plot be?  Explain.
  • (2) If you join together with one or two others who also have 100 meters of rope each, and you still use only four stakes, and you then share the resulting plot equally, can you get more land by working together?  Explain.

Parents worked on the problem alone and then discussed it with others.  Parents then reviewed samples of student work under a grading rubric.  It was interesting to see how parents addressed the different problems.  Some parents made charts of all possible plot dimensions while others drew pictures.  All wrote at least a few sentences about how they approached solving the problem and what they found.  One parent wrote an algebraic equation about the relationship between the number of people who join their ropes together and the increase in land area each person would gain as a result of joining with others.  All in all, parents were tackling the problem in a similar manner to the students!

In the Common Core 7 class, parents worked on a problem involving probability and statistics.  The problem described a game involving both tossing a coin and rolling dice to advance on a board.  Two players take turns tossing the coin and rolling the die.  If the coin lands on heads, the score is twice the number on the die.  If the coin lands on tails, the score is two more than the number on the die.  There were four parts to this problem:

  • (1) Completing a table of possible scores, showing all possible combinations of coin and die tosses.
  • (2) Based on the table, what is the probability of getting a score that is a prime number?
  • (3) If the score is a prime number, Chris moves ahead two squares on a board.  If the score is not a prime number, Jack moves ahead one square on the board.  Chris and Jack play a game with 12 trials.  How many squares would you expect Chris to move?  How many squares would you expect Jack to move?
  • (4) Is this a fair game?  Explain.

Again, parents we re asked to work on the problem alone and then had the opportunity to discuss it with others.  Parents then reviewed samples of student work under a grading rubric and identified common student mistakes.  It was interesting to see that even if a student made a mistake (such as forgetting that 2 is a prime number, or misreading the problem and thinking there were six trials instead of 12), and therefore arrived at incorrect answers, the student could still receive nearly full credit if the student demonstrated understanding of how to calculate the probability of getting a prime number and how to calculate the number of squares each player would likely move by the end of the game.

The math teachers during the session talked about the reading comprehension component of Common Core math and how students have to unlearn the habit of rushing to the numbers. They have to learn to read carefully to make sure they understand the problem before they jump to “answer-getting.”  They also explained that getting the correct answer is often secondary to developing a valid approach to solve a problem and then explaining their thinking.

In the Common Core 8 class, parents examined two rectangles and considered whether and how they were similar.  Parents began working on a problem concerning slope and similar triangles.  In the problem, students used two points on a line to determine the line’s slope.  Each student chose different points, essentially creating different but similar triangles.  Again, parents reviewed samples of actual student work on this problem and saw a range of explanations.

If you’d like to see some examples of the math being done with parents, here are the middle school math problems and student work samples that were shared at the parent math night.

If you are interested in attending a future math night, contact Cheryl Wozniak, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, so she can arrange for future parent math nights.  Also, please consider attending the next Education Speaker Series event on January 27th at 7:30 PM in the PHS Student Center when Dan Meyer presents: Why We Need to Change the Way We Teach Math.  You surely will walk away with a deeper and more profound understanding of the changes that are happening in math instruction.  And we hope that you will be excited and even more supportive of our teachers and our Common Core math programs.

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