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Now, More Than Ever, Is The Time For Parents and Teachers to Connect Around Math

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of negative Facebook and Twitter posts about math, as parents try to pick up from where their students left off in their classes. Some of the posts are clearly meant in jest, and others seem to be made in all seriousness, but they all worry me. The social media posts seem to focus on how hard math instruction is now, compared to when the parents were in school. These are similar to the responses we saw when states began adopting Common Core standards about a decade ago.

This time is definitely a challenge for everyone, but it might be the needed push to finally bridge the gap between teachers and parents around the ways that math instruction has indeed changed. It is also an opportunity for educators and leaders to really make the case that those changes are justified and beneficial.

Educators are used to coaching students through complex problems and animated classroom discussions, and now we need to coach our parents. Share with parents that math is a conversation about problem-solving – we expect to try different ideas until one makes sense.

Parents, it’s ok if your child’s math homework seems strange or doesn’t look like the math you remember. Math, like anything in life, can be frustrating. And math, like anything in life, can be learned at any point. Use this as a chance to model for your child how to learn new things. And if you’ve found yourself wondering why math might look a bit different, here are some answers to frequent questions I’ve heard.

Why is my student’s math instruction different than when I was in school?

Educators have learned a lot about how people learn and have updated all subjects to reflect this. This way of teaching math encourages students to connect previous ideas to new ones and to communicate their ideas in words, equations, and diagrams. Curriculums also use many visual models of math concepts that cross grade-levels so that students see how they are building on their previous knowledge and don’t feel like each unit is a disconnected topic.

What is the purpose of the changes in how math is taught?

Changes were made in the way math is taught so that students are better prepared for the advanced reasoning and thinking skills required in so many careers today. These changes also better identify grade-appropriate topics and strive to ensure students have foundational skills before moving to another topic.

How should I talk to my child’s math teacher about the frustrations we are experiencing?

First, understand that your child’s teacher wants them to succeed as much as you do. Second, be honest – your child’s teacher doesn’t want you or students to be angry or overwhelmed with math homework. Speak with the teacher and explain how you are approaching the content, what activities you are doing, and what your child’s interests are. This will help the teacher provide specific recommendations for you. If you are overwhelmed or not in a position to assist your student very much right now, ask their teacher for ways to talk about math in everyday activities – this is also very beneficial because it develops communication and reasoning skills.

What resources are there for me as a parent as I try to bridge the gap between how I was taught and the material my student is learning, especially during school closures?

The first resource to check is any parent materials from your student’s teacher – these materials, often created by the curriculum authors, are designed to give families an overview of the content and methods. Also, ask if your child’s curriculum has a website and for your child’s log-in information. PBS offers a set of questions for math discussions called Tips for Developing Mathematical Thinking that are available online.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative has many parent resources, a FAQ section, and a Myths vs. Facts sheet. Bealearninghero.org has quick grade-level assessments for reading and math, activities to help students learn crucial topics and resources to help parents. The Collaborative for Student Success offers a Math Resources page, and The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has information under the Classroom resources section.

Teachers do not expect parents to become educators overnight, and parenting and teaching are two very different activities. Encourage your children to ask questions about everything, even if you do not know the answers. Supporting curiosity is just as important as math facts. And if you have time and energy, use the resources I discussed above and share them with others. Teachers know that next year will be different from any year we have ever experienced, and we are ready and waiting, with many of us already starting our planning.


Gina Wilson has 14 years of teaching experience and currently serves as the Math Department Chair and a CORE Advisor at the Early College Alliance in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Gina is completing her doctorate in Education Leadership and holds a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan. She is a National Board-Certified Teacher in Mathematics, a Michigan Educator Voice Fellow, and a former finalist for Michigan Teacher of the Year.