Before moving to Rhode Island, RITES’ Math Tutor Linda Wiles taught middle school math in Arizona and Nebraska for over 16 years. In Arizona, she served as the math specialist for a K-8 school and was also the teacher-leader, designing professional conferences and assisting teachers by observing their lessons, discussing lesson design, and providing resources. In Nebraska, Linda was part of the math leadership conferences. She was a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and presented a class, “Sixty-Second Secret Solution Sacks”, at their regional conference in Oklahoma. In 2003 Linda earned the National Professional Teaching Certificate for Middle-Level Mathematics, Grades 5-9. Linda, who tutors for RITES at the learning center in Pawtucket and in West Warwick and East Greenwich, Rhode Island, shares these amazing math tips and strategies to implement at home:
What should students do at home to put their math skills into practice?
Parents should encourage their child to use mental math to solve everyday problems. I know that in a classroom, a teacher needs to see the written steps because there is such limited time for one-on-one conversations. However, parents have the time to have a brief conversation each day. It can start as simply as counting the carrots on your plate…if I add 5 more…if I give you twice as many. It can be practicing adding on tens. It can be estimating at the grocery store. It can be addition with regrouping without using a paper. We all use math every day. We just need to include it in our daily discussions with our children and make it like a game. No paper, no pencils…just mental.
What are the best home-strategies for struggling students?
I think students need to feel safe mathematically. Never make a child feel bad because they missed a problem. We know they don’t do it intentionally. Rather than allow them to say, “I don’t do math well”, we need to find the spot where their thinking fell apart. Then parents and teachers can return to that point of development for additional instruction. Also, wait time is important! Don’t rush the child when they are struggling. Ask: tell me what you are thinking. Listen to their thoughts. Often, just saying their struggle aloud will help them find their own solution. And make the math into games! Build things together!
What should parents keep in mind about their children’s math learning process and how can they best help out at home?
Learning is not an easy process but it does come naturally when we get out of the way. When we watch small children play, we see that they have the ability to work out their own problems. I think you should have a presence during math homework, but that does not mean “telling how to do it”. It means teaching a child how to use their own resources. Say instead: “Tell me what you saw your teacher do in class.” “Do you have a paper with directions?” “Tell me what you DO know about this.” Never say, “let me show you” because then you are the expert instead of the collaborator. And never be in a hurry! Find a time when neither you or your child is exhausted. Make sure the space is conducive to study. Have resources nearby: paper, pencil, rulers, internet.
How can parents include math in day-to-day activities to encourage progress?
- Take your kids to the grocery store. Give them their own list. Ask them to estimate the cost and give them money to check out. (Give them coupons and give them that money back in cash! They will become savvy shoppers.)
- Play math games at the dinner table: Roll the dice and play “add-on”. One person names a number, the next must add on the number rolled. Make up very simple games!
- Use non-standard forms of measurement: About how many hands long is this table?
- Once I gave my own kids their own monthly “bank account”. They got an amount for the month, then wrote me checks to withdraw money. If they “over-drafted” the account, there was a penalty. They could make a ‘loan” for large items, but it included interest and payment coupons. We would figure out the interest so that they understood that they were paying more for an item when borrowing. When they are in 6th grade, they are ready to do the linear equations or proportions for the items they purchase on credit, membership fees, or if they purchase something online and need to pay for shipping.
- Play a lot of board games and card games that require thinking strategies.
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What are the biggest math misconceptions?
That there is only one way to solve a problem! Left to their own, children will develop their own algorithms.
Is there one important reason why students might fall behind in math?
Classrooms teach algorithms because it is a faster way to get a group of 25 kids on the same page. But it is not a natural way to teach. A child can get confused and lost when somebody else has designed how to solve the problem. Give them time to think on their own. I personally preferred small groups with task cards so that I could move between groups and ask questions rather than write how to do it on the board.
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What is your take on the use of calculators?
They certainly can speed us up! But a child needs to have a sense of when their entry on a calculator produces an unreasonable answer. They are not a substitute for math sense and mental math abilities. So, I use them initially for students to check their work. Graph your equation, then see what the calculator said. Once a child has developed solid basic skills, then calculators are a wonderful addition.
How to best prepare for a test?
- Preparation begins the moment a unit of study or a concept is presented.
- Keep a notebook of important skills you will need to do the work. Keep samples of how the skill will be represented in a “real life” problem. Keep samples of what can be tricky.
- I LOVE students who use a lot of color in their notebooks. The brain sees the information much better during recall.
- A student should be able to look at the chapter review and find examples for every question in their personal notebook. If not, they need to add examples.
- It helps if they can try to explain it to someone before the test. A parent doesn’t need to know algebra to follow a student’s explanation. If you have questions, ask, and your child will feel empowered when they explain it to you.
How do you compare math to learning another skill?
I have a Bachelors and Masters Degree in music. I am a classical pianist. The skills are so similar. As a pianist, I am constantly looking for patterns, solving fingering problems, researching new ideas, finding new repertoire, and trying to memorize 15 to 100-page pieces. Both math and music require analytical thinking. So, I use my analysis skills in music and my creative skills in math.
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How can we make math fun and exciting?
My favorite teaching fun has been projects that imitate life and provide students with skills for their future: using proportion to create 6 foot ants, stock market projects, house building projects, miniature golf courses, using angle measurements to find the hidden treasure on a pirate island, racing cars on sloping tracks, life projects where you get a job, pay off loans, find housing, cars, etc. In my own life, I have done home makeovers (flips) and love to paint, tile, build and create new spaces using re-purposed objects.
Looking for expert math support? Linda is available in the West Warwick/East Greenwich. Don’t live there? Ask us about math teachers in other locations in Rhode Island. Contact Us!