I recently had the opportunity to attend the Numeracy & Beyond Parent Conference hosted by Peel District School Board. It was a day for parents to come together and learn about how math is being taught and how to help their children develop their math skills. Being a first time parent with no involvement in the school system since I was a student, I was surprised by how much the approach to teaching math has changed. I can’t speak for other school boards but PDSB is three years into their Engage Math program. It’s a new method that gets kids thinking about math in new ways.

There was so much information to take in but I want to take some time to share with you some of the main takeaways I gathered from the speakers and workshop facilitators shared.

Math is about how you approach it

I don’t know about you but I wasn’t a fan of math in school. I don’t know what it was but math and I just didn’t get along. It’s kinda weird considering I’ve spent so many years working, in some capacity or another, in data analysis.

A few days before the conference, I had a chat with a friend who used to be a teacher in Peel region. We reminisced– scratch that, cringed– about our school days when we memorized addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables. There was one way to learn something so there wasn’t much thought behind why certain equations worked out the way they did, we just accepted it.

Don’t get me wrong, I received a fabulous education and am grateful for the opportunity. I mention this only because that might be why math wasn’t my strongest subject. I was taught how to do things one way and looking back, that way didn’t resonate with me so I didn’t give it as much attention compared to other subjects.

I want Miss O to have the best chance of succeeding which is why I attended the conference. I want to know what I can do to help her in the best way possible. The new approach isn’t about focusing on worksheets and textbooks but more about creating and encouraging a sense of wonder in kids. The idea is to build what the keynote speaker, Matt Oldridge a math resource teacher for the PDSB, called number sense. There’s no need for memorization when they realize that they can tackle a question in a way that works for them.

Parent participation is paramount

During an afternoon workshop, Matt shared some surprising stats about how much time kids spend at home vs. at school. It’s not what you think. According to the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE), from birth to 18 years, kids spend 30% of their time sleeping, a mere 13% of their time in school and a whopping 57% of their time is spent awake and not in school. I was surprised by the huge gap between in school vs. not in school.

During your time together there are a number of activities you can practice to subtly teach them math. Most of these activities are geared towards younger kids because those were the workshops I attended.

  • Find math in everyday activities:
    • Ask your child to help sort their laundry. This helps them learn how to sort by attributes. For example, ask them to put all the socks together and then match the pairs
    • When you’re cooking or baking help them measure out the ingredients to learn about volume
    • When planning your next grocery trip let them help you price match. If they’re older, ask them to figure out which deals make the most sense based on price and quantity
    • Let them help you make their lunch. If you have a bowl of fruit, get them to choose a combination of fruits for the day. Cut their sandwich in half or diagonally and ask them what shape that makes
    • The next time you’re out for a drive, ask them to point out specific vehicles like buses
  • Ask them questions that get them thinking. Then ask them how they got to their answer: How much money do you think this is? How long do you think it’ll take to get to school?
  • Take them to “maker fairs”. These activities allow kids to tinker and build. They’re thinking about math and don’t even realize it. Lego often holds these types of fairs at malls
  • Read to them. Find math books at your library. In the “Everyday Math Thinking Tools” workshop I attended, the facilitator shared the following books:
    • Teddy Bear Math by Barbara Barbieri McGrath
    • Cheerios Counting Book by Barbara Barbieri McGrath
    • Polly’s Pen Pal by Stuart J. Murphy
    • Fractions by Joseph Midthun
    • The Best of Times by Greg Tang
  • Google math games. Some of you might be weary of screen time for young kids but this is worth it, even for a few minutes. There are tons of sites and apps out there that will keep your kids engaged while teaching them. Here are just a few:

We’re raising a generation of startup founders

With this new approach to math, kids are being taught to become better problem solvers. They’re being taught to look for alternative solutions to problems because while there’s one right answer, there’s more than one way to get to it. Isn’t that the essence of a being startup founder? Finding new ways to solve the same problem?

“Math isn’t about what you know, it’s about how you act when you don’t know”

Impressing on kids that there’s more than one way to get to an answer is super important. Every brain thinks differently and this approach allows kids to figure out what works for them.

In the afternoon session Matt put up the question below to illustrate how we were taught to multiply.

Then he put the question up again but formatted differently:

He asked parents how they’d solve the problem.  Not surprisingly, everyone he asked (six or seven brave souls in the front) had a different approach to it. For example, one way is to multiply 20 x 12 to get 240 and then 1 x 12 to get 12. Add them together to get 252. Another way is to multiply 21 x 10 to get 210 and then multiply 2 x 21 to get 42. Add them up to get 252.

His point was to show that you can break down a question and solve it different ways and get to the same answer.

“Play-based learning” isn’t a bad word

In the “Maker Math” workshop I attended, the facilitator explained that we don’t have to stress about the thought of play-based learning in elementary school. I know I’ve questioned how this would be different from preschool to kindergarten if kids just play all day. But the difference here is that their “playing” is focused on learning math by making things.

The session highlighted three activities to try with older children to help identify shapes and patterns, which are the essence of geometry. You can try them at home:

Another great activity is jigsaw puzzles. Miss O loves them so I buy them to keep her busy for a few minutes but it turns out they’re a great way to help kids identify shapes, build their visual perception, reinforce their fine motor skills, match shapes, boost their focus and much more.

Figure out what methods work for your kids

Math can be challenging but as parents we can help our kids as much as we can. Of course we’re busy but working math into everyday activities is just one way to guide and encourage kids as they learn. By changing the approach to it we’re in a better position to figure out what methods click with our kids and help them develop that skill. It doesn’t matter what age they are as long as we’re able to guide them.

If you have older kids, I’d love to hear about your experience with math. Please share in the comments.