In This Issue
Altering Our Math Attitudes

I've never been good at math. It doesn't make sense to me, and I would be lost without a calculator. And as the prophecy foretold, most of the math that I learned in school hasn't made an appearance in my adult life.
While this type of thinking is fairly common among parents, did you know that it's actually detrimental to your children's feelings about math? A few weeks ago, NPR published an article explaining how a parent's casual remarks to their children about how they themselves were never good at math "can send a signal to kids about whether they can succeed." When parents discuss their own dislike of math, they create an excuse their children can latch onto to explain away their own troubles and hinder them from putting forth their best efforts. If their parents don't understand the material, then how could they possibly understand it?
When our children are having a difficult time with something, we often tell them that everyone has something that they're not good at. Some people are gifted at playing soccer, some are great at playing the piano, and some are math wizzes. Placing people into these sorts of categories sends a message to your children that there are some things they are simply incapable of succeeding at, and this reinforces a belief that there's no point in trying at something that does not come naturally to them. It's important to help your children realize that even if they're struggling to understand something right now, that doesn't mean they'll never get it; they just need to utilize the resources around them and keep an open mind.
It may seem like a small thing, but children's first role models are usually their parents, so they will often mimic their parents' attitudes towards particular subjects. Even if you do have negative feelings about math, it's crucial to project an upbeat attitude about the subject. If your children are struggling to grasp a particular mathematical concept, don't agree that it's too difficult to learn; instead, help them pinpoint which elements of the concept are confusing, and encourage them to meet with their teacher for help or to use an online resource like Khan Academy. Creating this positive environment will motivate your children to embrace math and learn that they are capable of accomplishing anything they set their minds to.
Understanding the Role of Math in School and Life  

Although it's referred to as the universal language, math is a subject that many shy away from under the guise of it being too difficult to comprehend. Unfortunately, once people meet an obstacle in their mathematical career, instead of finding a way to go through the roadblock, they resolve to abandon the subject as a whole and label it a "lost cause." 

From that point on, many people stop trying to advance their mathematical endeavors and, consequently, halt the critical thinking skills that may have developed through their explorations of math. 

However, since math is a subject that is present at every level of education, from elementary school through college, it is crucial that we introduce math to children as a subject that can be comprehended by all, not just a select few, and show them the different ways in which problems can be approached. 


When children are simply taught how to perform certain operations through rote application, without a deep understanding of the material, then they are most likely going to have a harder time properly understanding certain concepts as time goes on. It's important to show them that all mathematical topics are interrelated and that anyone can comprehend them.

Make connections.  When working with younger children, it's imperative to demonstrate the connection between all of the operations. For example, show them how multiplication is simply repeated addition, division is simply repeated subtraction, and addition is the opposite of subtraction, as multiplication is to division. By making connections, your children will learn that mathematical concepts do not exist in a vacuum and instead build upon one another.

Explore.  Many children learn math through memorization and less through their discovery of the concept of mathematical truths, which impedes their ability to think critically and lowers their aptness in developing the proper analytic skills needed prior to making a decision. Encourage your children to try and derive their own solutions, where they utilize their own methods to solve a problem. If their chosen method doesn't work, ask them to explain why and how they can alter their approach. 

Ask questions.  If children perceive math to be the memorization of facts and formulas, they won't grasp the complexity and nuances of the process behind each formula. Inspire a sense of curiosity in your children by asking them to explain why they need to take certain steps to solve a problem and what would happen if they tried the steps in a new order. By having your children think through a problem as opposed to mindlessly applying a formula, they will better comprehend the problem conceptually. 


When talking to children of any age about math, there is a good chance they will tell you that they'll never need a particular mathematical concept in the real world. While it's true that you may not be solving logarithms on a daily basis, math teaches you how to think critically and flexibly. Research and common sense tell us that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot think or understand for our students. We can, however, create conditions that encourage students to "turn on" their brains and actively engage in learning mathematics through critical inquiry.

Greater independence and self-regulation . By helping your children develop a repertoire of thinking tools that they are able to use independently, you can support their growing confidence in thinking for themselves and monitoring their own learning.

Sound decisions.  When children think critically in mathematics, they make reasoned decisions or judgments about what to do and think. They begin to consider the criteria or grounds for a thoughtful decision and do not simply guess or apply a rule without assessing its relevance. 

Communicating.  Mathematical reasoning enables you to draw logical conclusions, construct a valid argument, and more! These skills can be applied to a variety of situations, from writing a paper to preparing for a job interview. When your children understand how these math skills are transferable, they will develop a new appreciation for them.


A wise person once said that "the way we do anything is the way we do everything." If we teach our children that it's acceptable for them to go through their math classes simply by mechanically repeating the steps that were shown to them and we do not encourage them to push past barriers and seek a deeper understanding of the topic, then we run the risk of educating children who are more driven by the 'how' factor than the 'why' factor. Although the 'how' factor allows us to get things done, the 'why' factor is what allows us to break new ground in our respective fields, as the 'how' factor serves as a derivative for the 'why' factor. 

So the next time your children are working on their math homework, remind them to Think Organized by trying new approaches that develop their critical thinking skills.