Are you a parent with math anxiety?
Are you one of those parents who is "bad" at math? Does thinking about middle school math homework make you nervous? Lots of people are anxious about their own math abilities, which is a huge problem when your child needs help with math homework.
Research has shown that children whose parents are anxious about math LEARN LESS MATH over a year, if those math-anxious parents regularly help with homework.
So should parents who are anxious about math stay away from the homework table?
Sadly this research does not earn you a free pass to skip math homework help. But there are some things you can do to improve your math relationship with your child.
1. Stop talking about being bad at math.
People don't generally go around talking about how bad they are at reading. So why do we accept this attitude for math? Talking about being bad at math gives your child the opportunity to make the same claim. Especially given what we know about the importance of a growth mindset, giving an easy out to children who struggle with math is a big mistake.
2. Find a fun math activity you can do with your child.
There are so many options for fun, stress-free math activities.
A recent research study found that Bedtime Math, a free app, improved math learning in children. The best part is that this app helped EVEN when the parents had math anxiety! It is designed to be used by parents and children together, and not just at bedtime. Screen-free? There is also a book.
We use the book and app interchangeably. My son told me recently that he loves math BECAUSE of Bedtime Math and my teacher heart grew three sizes. I love that there are interesting little non-fiction blurbs that go with the problems, and there are problems for a range of ages and abilities. Bonus... the answers are included!
You can also check out Pinterest for lots of games and activities that you can try out with your child.
I love the Super 7s app, because it feels like a just-for-fun game, but it builds important math skills. And, it is fun for parents, too. I might have just played 2 or 12 rounds of "research".
3. Don't let "different" or "new" math scare you.
Accept that math education today does not look like it did when you were in school. And that's probably a good thing.
If a good portion of a generation or two grew up HATING math, or thinking they are bad at math, then maybe some changes in the status quo were needed. There are ongoing studies about math education around the country and the world, trying to find out what works and what doesn't. It makes sense that the results of these studies should be used to improve schools and curriculum.
I'm almost scared to mention it, but most math-related vitriol these days is directed at the Common Core. There are whole swaths of the internet devoted to discussing the pros and cons of the Common Core, and I don't even want to touch that here. I mention the Common Core because, like it or hate it, it is not to blame for every new or different math worksheet.
I recently read an article about some confusing Common Core homework. I understand why the parents in the article were frustrated by the homework, but the reality is that the strategies on those homework sheets have been floating around for many years. I saw them when I taught in Washington, D.C., and I saw them in Texas schools. Texas, coincidentally, did not adopt the Common Core.
4. Talk to the Teacher
If your child is struggling with math homework on a regular basis, it is important to talk to the teacher. Homework struggles can let the teacher know that your child may need extra attention in class. The teacher might have suggestions for better ways to help your child, or specific activities to strengthen particular skills. Parent feedback about homework can be very helpful; sometimes teachers don't know how long the homework actually takes.
5. Get help! To help your child...
I wish that every homework sheet had a little QR code you could scan to see a video explaining how to do the homework (and maybe even WHY it was assigned). Absent a code or quick link, the internet can still be a huge help. Google the name of the skill or worksheet your child is stuck on or search for a related Khan Academy video.
It's also just fine to outsource some of the actual math homework or studying help. Look for a tutor, or find a neighbor or friend who might be better suited to help.