Category Archives: Math

Report Cards: Celebrate the “E’s”

School is out for most of the nation, which means it is report card time. Are you eagerly anticipating your son’s great grades, or awaiting with trepidation what that dreaded envelope will bring? Before you open that envelope, take a deep breath and remember the following:

1. Your son’s grades, good or bad, do not define him. Good grades are an achievement of which a student can be proud but they are not an assessment of his worth in life, or a guarantee that he will be a successful in life. Bad grades can indicate that a student is not fully grasping the material or needs better time management skills, but they are not an assessment of his worth in life, or a guarantee that he will not be successful in life. It can be hard to remember this and to convey it to our children, especially if we haven’t always believed this ourselves. (I vividly remember getting a terrible grade in law school and calling my father crying hysterically. When he finally understood that I was not hurt or in serious trouble, but was just upset about a grade, he snapped at me and hung up pretty quickly. I got the message that I was being ridiculous.) Too much praise for good grades can lead your son to focus more on the grades than what he is learning and what his passions might be; shaming your son about bad grades can mess with his psyche and certainly doesn’t help him improve. Strive for calm and balance in your reaction whatever the grades may be.

2. Celebrate the E’s for Effort. Every student can’t always get an A in every class, but every student should be encouraged to work as hard as he can to do the best he can. If your son brings a D up to a B- by the end of the term, this is progress born of hard work, and he should be commended for this. If your son’s report card isn’t where you both would like it to be, determine whether there are any upward trajectories to point out and encourage him to continue the hard work. Focusing on the effort helps your son to understand that school is about learning and learning has value even if you don’t get the highest grades. Assure him that in the real world, knowing how to put forth great effort will take him a long way.

3. Reflect on your own experiences with honest and accuracy, and remember that they are your experiences, not your son’s. Just because you found math or science or essay writing easy, doesn’t mean that your son automatically will. Conversely, if you were a poor math student and your son is having trouble in math, don’t just chalk it up to genetics, get him a tutor. Were you really an A student all of the time? What did you do when you got a grade you didn’t like? If you have a story of dealing with a bad grade and turning it around, share it with your son. We tend to present ourselves as all-knowing parents who never had difficulties. Humanizing the situation could make it easier for you both.

4. Focus on a plan, which starts in the summer, to tackle any problem areas. Organizational issues? Spend some time together researching systems to find one which make sense to him, and take a leisurely trip to Staples or Office Depot (or any stationery store) to get the materials to implement a system that he participates in designing. Does he need to do math drills? Get workbooks and set up a realistic but firm summer schedule to work on them. Is he having trouble in English class? Check out his summer reading list, read one of the books on it yourself, and discuss it throughout the summer. Chat about the characters and the story. You’ll get a sense of his reading comprehension, and you’ll be able to compare perspectives on the book. (For parents of older students: get the Cliff or Spark Notes if you don’t have “War and Peace” reading time.) It is good to focus on these areas in the summertime when there is more time and less stress.

Speaking of stress, as tough as it may seem to do, try not to stress out with any of this. Remember that your son’s academic journey is a marathon, not a sprint. And be sure to take some time to enjoy the summer with your son!

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Filed under Academics, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Math, Parents

Summer Learning Fun: Museums Making Math Cool

Parents can use all the help we can get to encourage our sons (and daughters) to see math as an interesting and useful discipline, especially as we encourage them to pursue studies in the STEM fields. As a recent article in Education Week reveals, museums around the country are providing this help by developing programs and exhibits to encourage children to think about math as a fun and useful tool.

In New York City, a former hedge fund analyst has recently opened the National Museum of Mathematics located at 11 East 26th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. At “MoMath”, children dance on polygons in a light activated math square, ride an oversize tricycle with square wheels on a bumpy track, and frolic in front of screens that illustrate fractals during their fun-filled hands on visit to this museum. As the Education Week article found here explains, MoMath’s goal is for its visitors to see that math is about thinking and discovery, not just rote memorization, and that it is everywhere—from highway design to musical composition to roller coaster construction.

The MoMath website, found here, is filled with opportunities for children to become more engaged in mathematics. Among them is a summer math camp program, Transformations, which offers one week Math camps for 4th through 8th graders at the museum, with need based scholarships available to ensure that all children have a chance to participate. Their summer program schedule also boasts lots of free events for families to enjoy, including MoMath story time, a Scrabble strategy session with a Scrabble national champ, and “Folding in Geometry”, featuring origami instruction for the entire family. “Changing perceptions is our goal,” explains Cindy Lawrence, the co-executive director of MoMath. “From the minute people walk in the door, we try to highlight the creative side of math: that it’s colorful, it’s beautiful, it’s exploratory, fun and engaging. None of these are words people typically associate with math.”

Across the country science museums are developing fun and accessible math exhibitions in an effort to inspire students to think differently about math. The Exploratorium in San Francisco developed the Geometry Playground and Garden, which is designed to change the way people think about geometry by “engaging their hands, brain, and body in playful investigations of this most visible branch of math”. Visitors are encouraged to explore the Geometry Garden to experience “the beauty that emerges from the basic rules of geometry”. The Geometry Playground is a traveling exhibition which will visit other cities including Oklahoma City, OK and Lehi, Utah.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has recently developed the Design Zone, with 25 exhibits to engage 10- to 14-year-olds in algebraic thinking. Karyn Bertschi, a senior exhibit developer at the Portland museum, explains the focus on algebra: “People think about algebra as a gatekeeper subject. Without success in it, many students are blocked from other opportunities.” The 6,000-square-foot exhibit has been touring the country and is booked at museums through 2015. Check the Design zone tour schedule, found here, to see if it is coming to a museum near you.

The Science Museum in Minnesota, the Museum of Science in Boston, the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina and Explora in Albuquerque, New Mexico have collaborated with two research centers (with National Science Foundation support) to develop Math Moves!, long-term math museum environments that children can interact with over multiple visits and over several years. The Math Moves website, found here, provides details of the exhibitions and includes teacher’s guides to the exhibition, and additional math enrichment activities for families and educators.

Parents, check these websites and your local museums to find math exhibits near you, and make plans to take your children on a summer learning adventure. If you live in or around NYC, a visit to MoMath is a must. (I plan to grab my youngest and head there; will report back.) Let’s do our part to help our sons and daughters find out how cool math can be!

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Mathematics in Gym Class?

What is your son doing in his gym class? Are he and his classmates running around, learning sports and playing games? And are they reviewing vocabulary words and math concepts as they play? Some schools in the 45 states which have adopted more rigorous English and Math standards are bringing this intensified curriculum into gym class as well. In a West Palm Beach Florida classroom profiled in a recent New York Times article found here, the gym teacher had her students counting by fours during their exercise routine, running math based relay games, and learning vocabulary words as they did push ups. In Chesapeake, VA, students count in other languages as they do their exercises. D.C. schools have added health and fitness questions to their year-end standardized test. The push to add an academic component to gym class isn’t solely born of a need to ramp up the rigor. Schools claim that making the class more academic justifies keeping gym class at a time when non academic courses (like art and music) are disappearing from the curriculum to make room for additional core coursework.

But some schools are resisting adding this academic element to gym class, believing that the national focus on childhood obesity and the diminishing recess time in schools suggest that a gym class which focuses on physical activity is important to preserve. Moreover, studies have shown that regular physical exercise can help children to focus, concentrate and learn. Janis Andrews, the Palm Beach district chief academic officer, would agree, noting in the article: “Some children just learn better through more movement than they do sitting at a desk. Some kids are going to have that ‘aha’ moment not in the classroom, but the light bulb is going to finally go on outside.” Those of us with active boys would readily agree that they need and benefit from every possible opportunity to run around during their school day.

Some parent’s perspective on the importance of a “gym only” gym class will depend upon their own gym class experiences. If gym class for you meant the chance to finally race around and let off steam, or hone/show off your skills on the court or the field, then you may consider this concept of including academics both unnecessary and unwelcome. If you (like me) were more on the slow or uncoordinated side in school, and/or regularly the last chosen for any game or sport, perhaps the concept of learning something else during gym may sound like a more productive (and less discouraging) use of time.

GCP readers, what do you think? First of all, how much do you know about what goes on in your son’s (or daughter’s) p.e. class? Are their schools trying to incorporate academic instruction into the gym class, and if so, is it at the expense of the physical exercise? As the mother of athletic, active boys, but who certainly understands (from personal experience) that not every student falls into that category, I’d rather have gym time include more activities designed to make everyone enthusiastic about moving around and enjoying the process of getting physically fit (not just the budding athletes) rather than have the students solving math problems and learning vocabulary words during gym. Your thoughts?

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Filed under Academics, Math, Sports

Hip Hop Science Teachers Spreading the Word

You may recall an earlier GCP post describing Wu Tang Clan member GZA’s work on his album “Dark Matter”, which focuses on his interest in science. (“The Latest Lesson from Hip-Hop…Science!” May 31, 2012.) An article in today’s NY Times reports that GZA has recently teamed up with a Columbia professor and the website Rap Genius to use hip-hop to teach science in 10 New York City public schools. Dr. Christopher Edmin, an assistant professor of science education at Columbia’s Teachers College and a huge hip-hop fan, met GZA when they were both on a radio show hosted by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium. Their mutual interest in using hip-hop to encourage students’ interest in science led them to create this pilot science education program which will launch early next year.

As the article found here notes, GZA and Dr. Edmin are focused on using the rhythms and the social practices of hip-hop to keep students interested in science and better able to retain what they learn. According to Dr. Edmin, a good rapper has already acquired many of the skills required for success in science: curiosity, keen observation, an ability to use metaphor and draw connections. Furthermore, he notes, the way in which hip hop rhymes are shared, usually in a circle with one participant picking up the rhyme when another stops (also known as a hip-hop “cypher”), encourages and positively rewards good participation. Says Edmin, “All of those things that are happening in the hip-hop cypher are what should happen in an ideal classroom.”

Starting in January, the 10 schools will work with cyphers and rhymes to teach basic science concepts one day per week, with support from Dr. Emdin and his graduate students. The science students will write rhymes rather than papers; the best rhymes, as judged by GZA, will appear on Rap Genius, alongside lyrics of popular hits. (For those of you uninitiated in the ways of RapGenius.com, not only does it provide the lyrics to countless hip hop songs, but by clicking on various lines from the song you can get a detailed interpretation of what that particular rhyme means. Not only is it a popular site for legit hip-hop enthusiasts, but it is also a great resource for those of us aging music fans who appreciate hip hop but have no idea what the artists are talking about much of the time.) The science program is part of a broader educational movement to use students’ outside interests to engage them in class work.

I can already hear the murmuring about whether hip-hop is a legitimate teaching tool, and how our children should not be the guinea pigs for this kind of experimental learning. But as the article explains, this is a small program with a slow rollout, and I expect its effectiveness will be thoroughly assessed by Dr. Edmin and his team. So there will be time and effort spent determining whether this approach yields good results and how scalable the results can be. Besides, with all signs pointing to the STEM-focused industry as being the biggest future job provider for our children, and with a 35 point gap between the average scores of Black and white 8th graders in 2011 as reported here by the National Center for Education Statistics, we need to use every angle we can think of to encourage our sons (and daughters) to learn and succeed in science. GCP readers, what do you think?

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Raising Financially Savvy Kids

How do you talk to your sons and daughters about spending and saving money? Teaching our children financial responsibility is one of the most important and beneficial things parents can do. Forbes.com’s article “Raising Financially Savvy Kids”, found here, features helpful teaching tips from Mary Hunt’s recently released book, “Raising Financially Confident Kids”. Hunt recommends starting financial conversations early, well before your children are able to handle money on their own. This article is worth reading; even if you learn nothing new it will remind you of ways to stay focused on this issue.

Financial literacy is more than just helping children save money for a new toy or for the collection plate. Our kids need to grow up understanding the power of investing, the use/abuse of credit, and generally how to make sound economic decisions. We at GCP want to develop a broader financial literacy lesson plan for our readers to follow, and we’ll be bringing you advice from people who can help.

We need your help too. Have any tips on or questions about talking to your children about money matters? Let’s hear them!

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 8-12, Math

Financial Literacy for Children

Today’s Wall Street Journal includes a story of how one family has started their son on the road to financial literacy using his allowance. The article, found here, features adorable Ryan Emah, a 7 year old second grader, who gets $3.00 a week from his parents for fufilling “basic expectations ” like emptying the dishwasher and folding clothes. He and his mother use the website threejars.com to help him manage his money. He divides his weekly allotment among three “jars”: saving, spending and charitable giving. In a wise move, his mother set up the virtual savings account with a high interest rate–she used 28 percent–so that Ryan can see and understand how interest builds on even a small amount of savings. Ryan dips into his spending jar to buy a new Beyblade as often as he can, and is considering where he will donate the funds from his charitable account.

It is very important for our sons (and daughters) to learn financial literacy. How are you working with your children to make sure they become responsible money managers? As this article demonstrates, you can start when they are young, and there are websites available to help you. GCP will be researching and sharing tips for helping your children understand the value of money and the benefits of saving and investing it. Stay tuned!

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Math, Resources

Portland High School’s Impressive AP Math Class

A recent story from a Portland high school, found here, demonstrates what we already know — young Black men (and women) can excel in challenging subject areas if given the opportunity.

Portland’s De La Salle North Catholic High School, which enrolls students from low-income backgrounds who come to 9th grade an average of 18 months behind academically, has an AP math class where two thirds of its students are Black. Scott Reis, who teaches this class, arrives early, stays late and meticulously plans each lesson to give his students maximum chances of success on the AP exam. “He will literally stay hours after school to help you understand one concept,” student Shawn Yoakum says. The students respond to his dedication and enthusiasm by supporting one another in their efforts to master calculus, and seeking Reis’ help when they need it. Says another student, “We learn to catch on quickly. If you don’t talk in class and try to come to an understanding and make sure your understanding is correct, you’re not going to get it and remember it. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s a lot of work. I don’t let Mr. Reis leave after school until I understand.”

Kudos to Reis and De la Salle for giving their students the encouragement and support to reach for the stars academically. The valuable lessons those students are getting about how to learn–Talk in class. Come to an understanding, make sure it is correct. Don’t let the teacher leave until you understand.–can and should be passed on to our boys as well. These are keys to success in any academic endeavor.

We need to make sure we give our sons these keys, and stay vigilant to ensure that they are taking the most challenging and high level courses that they can, including AP classes. A recent College Board study revealed that 80% of the Black students taking the PSAT in 2011 whose scores indicated that they could have done well in AP classes never enrolled in them. In the class of 2011 only nine percent of the AP exam takers were Black. It is important that we stay focused on these issues for our boys!!

Thanks to Lisa Davis for this post.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Math

Online Help for High Schoolers from MIT

You may have already heard the news that MIT has a free online program called “Open Course Wear” which contains course material for roughly 2,100 MIT classes. If you haven’t, you can read all about it in the Forbes article, “M.I.T. Game-Changer: Free Online Education For All” found here.

What you may not know is that included on MIT’s Open Course Wear site is a special section for high school students. This “Highlights for High School” section, found here, offers students a guide to MIT courses selected specifically to help them prepare for AP exams, learn more about the skills and concepts they learned in high school, and get a glimpse of what they’ll soon study in college.

Students looking for additional help in Biology, Calculus, Chemistry and Physics can find videos on specific topics in each subject on this site. There are also video demonstrations of a variety of scientific principles taken from various MIT classes. If your son (or daughter) has an interest in attending MIT, there are, of course, links to admissions information. But the free study materials offered on this site appear user friendly for any science student. Tell your science-studying high schooler to check them out!

More news from the world of online courses: You will recall earlier GCP articles about Khan Academy, the series of free tutorial videos designed for K-12 students. Craig Silverstein, the first employee hired by the two founders of Google, has left Google to join Khan Academy as a developer. Sounds like Khan Academy has big plans!

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Filed under Academics, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Math

Khan Academy in the Classroom

Back in March, GCP told you about Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.com) and its math and science tutorials online. (“GCP Sidebar: Homework Helpers”, March 3, 2011) This semester, 36 schools nationwide are incorporating Khan Academy tutorials and software in their classroom instruction. Teachers across the country are combining their in-class lessons with computer based lectures and exercises devised by Salman Khan’s Khan Academy.

What differentiates Khan Academy’s classroom materials from the many other software offerings from companies trying to get a piece of the educational market is that Khan Academy’s materials, like their online tutorials, are free. As Khan, a math whiz who was raised by a single mother and attended public schools in Louisiana, explains in an article in today’s New York Times, found here, “The core of our mission is to give material to people who need it…[W]hy shouldn’t it be free?” Khan Academy is supported by grants from Bill Gates and other Silicon Valley giants, but their future fund-raising plans include establishing an endowment and developing educational summer camp programs.

The Khan Academy classroom materials, like the online tutorials, focus on math and science. Teachers are finding them helpful for their students who need to master fundamentals before moving on to higher level concepts. The materials allow students to measure their progress through exercises and quizzes, and the students are not able to move on to the next concept until they have mastered the one before them. Teachers can monitor students working with these materials from a central laptop, and can determine when the class is fully ready to move on to the next lesson.

“Math is a language for thinking”, says Salman Khan. Bravo to Khan and Khan Academy for creating ways to help students master this language, and for making their materials free and accessible to all.

Encourage your sons (and your daughters) to check out the tutorials on Khan Academy.

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Math in Preschool: Firm Foundation for the Future

Here’s yet another interesting educational piece in the news: Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article about how Chicago preschool and kindergarten teachers are integrating math concepts into daily classroom activities, giving young students firmer footing when they learn more complex math concepts in later grades. The teachers are being trained by The Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development which was co-founded by Barbara Bowman, mother of White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Erikson’s Early Mathematics Education Project grew out of the school’s findings that only 21 percent of Chicago early education teachers regularly taught math to their students, while 96 percent regularly taught language arts. This program trains teachers to focus on teaching mathematical thinking, rather than basic math procedures, and to make math an integral part of the children’s school day. As of the program’s professors explains, learning mathematical thinking at this young age helps students develop skills in reasoning and logic which prepare them to become not only better math students, but more focused students in any subject.

The Wall Street Journal article can be found here, and more information about the Erikson Institute can be found here.

How much math do your preschool and kindergarten children get in their day? Ask your schools if you don’t know.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-4, Math