Many parents believe that strong math skills, like strong literacy skills, are essential to their child’s success. While many of the activities that support literacy development- like bedtime stories, conversations at the dinner table and journal writing – are part of family routines, additional support for math is often outsourced to tutors or special programs. There are many resources and programs geared towards families who are looking for extra support, or extra challenges for their child. Here are some features that I think are essential to a good math program.
- The program structure should value improvement more than achievement. Many students believe that some students are good at math and others aren’t – a mindset that is damaging for students regardless of the group in which they think they belong. Rather than celebrating the “smart kids” who grasp concepts quickly, it is better for all students if the goal is improvement, regardless of their individual starting point. This encourages all students to reach their full potential.
- Students should understand the reason(s) behind the algorithms. Algorithms (or processes) are a great way to speed up computation once students understand why they work. For example, once students understand that 3 x 7 is the same as 3+3+3+3+3+3+3 which is also the same as 7+7+7, then they can memorize the 3 x 7 = 21 fact. However, if they only learn that 3 x 7 = 21, then it will be harder for them to apply that fact to solve problems.
- Students should be encouraged (and equipped) to explain their reasoning. This could be a simple as showing the steps they took to solve a problem or a complex verbal justification of their approach. Regardless of the format, students need to by able to articulate how they know that their solution is valid.
- Students should practice representing quantities in different forms. Whether it’s moving from standard form to expanded form, using a diagram to represent a word problem, or expressing a function algebraically and graphically, students need to learn how to move between forms of representation. This gives them a range of strategies to employ when it’s time to model and solve problems.
- Students should have fun. Math is both powerful and beautiful, and students should get glimpses of this. Board games, puzzles and rich problems are great ways for students to explore and enjoy the beauty and power of math.