Monthly Archives: March 2016

The idea to easy learning mathematics for the kid

The idea of learning math often conjures the image of a student hunched over his-desk. Solving problems using a set formula copied down from the teacher.

Math, we tend to think, is a strict set of algorithms, practices, and rules — all emanating from inside the classroom. New resources from the Harvard Family Research Project(HFRP), though, paint a different picture entirely — elevating the role of the family as a source of math knowledge.

In its latest initiative, HFRP is focusing on the idea that children’s knowledge of math is “broad and deep,” developing anywhere, anytime, and even starting at birth. Families are instrumental to their children’s success in mathematics, as they can help children recognize and use mathematical thinking in everyday activities.

But today’s math assignments can be confounding for parents who learned math in a pre-Common Core era, or in a different country — or who still harbor math anxiety from their own days at school, or never fully learned to connect the dots between everyday actions and math lessons. To ensure students are ready to thrive, educators have to partner with parents, acknowledging how diverse families already use math — and how they understand and grapple with math in their own ways.

MATH IS CULTURAL

To start, educators should keep in mind three broad ideas about mathematics and families, as explained by Diane Kinch and Marta Civil of the group TODOS: Mathematics for All.

  1. Mathematics is cultural. Families, especially parents who went to school outside of the United States, may have learned math differently than the way their children are learning it. They may have indicated decimals with commas instead of periods, or relied more on mental math in long division — and they may become confused (or confuse their children) when not introduced to the methods taught in their children’s school.
  2. Mathematics exists in many different ways in many different communities.Research often concludes that lower-income homes don’t do as many math activities as upper-income homes. But all families use math with their children, whether it’s through halving a recipe, calculating gas mileage, or figuring out the right angle to shoot a basketball. It’s up to teachers to connect with their school community and understand the practices and strengths of the families they work with.
  3. Students learn best when their families and teachers are co-learners.Teachers should help cultivate the mindset that everyone has different beliefs about what’s important in mathematics, and how that should be taught and learned.

FIVE STRATEGIES FOR CONNECTING WITH FAMILIES

How exactly can educators connect with families about mathematics? HFRP offers specific suggestions, drawn from TODOS, the case study “Daddy Says This New Math Is Crazy,” and the program Nana y Yo y las Mathematicas:

  • Leverage parents’ mathematical strengths. Seek out opportunities to identify math content and approaches with which parents are familiar. Look for and encourage instances of parents using math with their children, such as counting or noticing shapes, before asking parents to try out a new technique.
  • Make communication with parents the focus of homework. It’s easy for children and parents to grow frustrated when children can’t remember how to do their homework, and parents don’t understand the method that their children are supposed to use. Circumvent this problem by assigning students homework specifically asking them to teach the new method they learned that day to their parents.
  • Organize math discussions with families. Coordinate get-togethers to discuss content, ways to solve problems, and which skills are most important — meetings in which everyone is open to learning from each other.
  • Invite parents into the classroom. Ask parents to speak to their class about times that they have used math in their everyday lives. To demonstrate how mathematics is different — and the same — across cultures, invite parents to teach the class a lesson using the methods they learned in school, or using the same methods, but in another language.
  • Capture classroom lessons on video. Visits during the school day are not feasible for all families. Use smartphones to text short videos of lessons, to ensure parents feel included and aware of new learning methods.

WHY KIDS LOSE MATH KNOWLEDGE

It’s tough to imagine filling a-lazy-beach day with fractions, or stretching out in the back seat on a road trip and practicing long-division.

But across the socioeconomic spectrum, kids arrive back at school every fall much worse off in mathematics than they finished in the spring. On average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of learning in math over the summer — and teachers have to give up weeks of class time, or more, to make up for that loss.

WHY MATH LOSS?

The research is clear: Summer learning loss is a significant problem, playing a surprisingly large role in creating the achievement gap. Low-income kids can lose vast amounts of learning over the summer when they don’t have access to the same enriching activities as their higher-income peers, such as vacations, visits to museums and libraries, or even just time spent with family discussing academic concepts or everyday events. Schools and communities have tuned in to that challenge, finding more ways to partner with low-income families to ensure their children keep reading throughout the summer.

But it’s actually easier for kids — from all socioeconomic backgrounds — to forget what they learned in math over the summer than it is for them to lose reading skills.

The reason? Many parents — and their children — don’t think about math as existing outside of the classroom. “Parents often think that their kids learn math in school, and that it’s sort of the school’s domain,” says Harvard Graduate School of Education(HGSE) doctoral student Kathleen Lynch. Many parents “may just be less inclined to do math at home,” she says.

“Reading activities are often part of the fabric of a family’s daily life,” says Joanna Christodoulou, an HGSE faculty member and an assistant professor at the MGH Institute of Health Professions. “But if you try to imagine a bedtime math routine, as you might for reading, the idea of winding down by completing math equations doesn’t elicit the same interest. The issue isn’t that engaging math activities are not available outside of school, but rather that it is easy to overlook the presence of math in everyday activities, like measurement in cooking, calculation when dealing with money, or distance while driving.”

As a result, when the school year ends, kids may have very few opportunities to engage in any type of mathematical thinking. It’s likely that most of the resulting loss involves procedures, not general concepts, the researchers say. An incoming fifth grader may retain the conceptual idea that division means separating things out into equal groups, but it’s easy for her to forget the set of steps to solving a long division problem.

But getting students to remember those procedures isn’t as easy as just assigning them summer math homework.

In a recent study, Lynch and summer learning expert James S. Kim, an associate professor at HGSE, examined the effects of a summer math intervention in which students were given access to an online math program and asked to do three “playlists,” or worksheets, a week. While the majority of students did use the program, their math scores showed no improvement at the end of the summer. So just assigning worksheets without mentoring or guidance, Lynch concludes, probably won’t correct summer math loss. Families will need to adopt a more integrated approach.

FOUR WAYS TO BEAT THE SUMMER MATH SLUMP

To understand what specific interventions and home supports would alleviate summer math loss, more research is needed. But here are four fun ways for parents to help their children practice math skills over the summer, based on work by Christodoulou, Lynch, and HGSE’s master teacher in mathematics, Noah Heller.

  • Highlight the math in every day activities. When shopping, help kids calculate change or discounts. When watching a baseball game, talk about what players’ statistics mean. When cooking, try halving or doubling a recipe, and assist kids in figuring out the new proportions.
  • Read short math stories together. Studies have shown that reading math-focused stories to children, such as Bedtime Math books or the Family Math series, can help boost math scores in school.
  • Play math games. Games like Yahtzee, Racko, Blokus, Monopoly, and Set all rely on skills necessary for math, such as counting, categorizing, and building. Even playing with blocks and assembling jigsaw puzzles can help kids learn spatial skills and recognize patterns.
  • Find small ways to practice math at home. While worksheets alone won’t solve summer math slump, small amounts of practice with basic formulas can help. Problem-of-the-day math calendars are a great way to practice basic math problems on a small scale. Parents can also find resources on Investigations about what types of mathematical procedures they should be practicing with their children.

A NEW STUDY REVEALS

Good news for education researchers. Your work is influencing district and school leaders and helping to guide their decisions.

Countering criticism that education research is often irrelevant to practice, a newly released national survey has found that the majority of education leaders value research and use it regularly.

It’s a moment for education scholars and research institutions to relish — and then ask, “So what’s next?” Can these findings trigger a wider push for evidence-based solutions? With increased collaboration between researchers and practitioners, can education research — like research in medicine or case studies in business — shape the way school leaders approach emerging needs or the toughest problems of their daily practice?

THE RESEARCH

The survey was produced by the National Center for Research in Policy and Practice(NCRPP), a collaboration among the University of Colorado Boulder, the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research, and the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. It gathered information from 733 education leaders in 485 school districts across 45 states. The respondents were superintendents, principals, curriculum supervisors, and directors of federal programs, in mid- to large-size urban U.S. districts.

The survey was careful to define research as “an activity in which people employ systematic, empirical methods to answer a specific question” — not just the practice of examining data from a specific district, school, or classroom.

Following that definition, the survey asked about the ways in which participants had used research in their work, about individual pieces of research they had used, and about the culture of research use in their department.

The results?

  • Almost all education leaders are using research to inform their decisions. Nearly 80 percent of respondents indicated that they use research “frequently” or “all of the time” to support the choices they make in their work.
  • Fewer educators are using research more broadly to develop their perspectives. While 72 percent of respondents said they use research to expand their understanding of issues, most of those only did so only “frequently” or “sometimes,” not “all of the time.”
  • Responses indicated that research was most likely to come up in conversations about instruction and curricula and least likely to come up in discussions of parents or community issues.
  • Only a little more than half — 59 percent — of respondents could name a specific piece of research or study that had been useful to their work.
  • While nearly all respondents agreed that researchers provide valuable service to educators, attitudes were more mixed on the credibility of research, with over a third indicating that researchers could be biased, framing their results to make a certain point.
  • Very few respondents said that they ever contact researchers directly.

Let’s be Good Student

The world needs young adults who are ethically-aware and connected to their communities.

Ready to dig into the problems threatening the common good. But today’s college admissions process, which can consume teenagers and dictate what they do and value, instead encourages a competitive focus on personal successes and accolades. Colleges admissions do endorse community service, but too often, service commitments become sidelined, trumped up, or perfunctory.

A growing consortium of key stakeholders wants to change that dynamic, joining an effort to reform the college admissions process so it prioritizes concern for others and authentic community engagement. Those goals are part of a new approach to admissions outlined in Turning the Tide, a report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common (MCC) initiative that has now been endorsed by more than 140 colleges and universities, high schools and districts, and allied organizations and scholars.

To actually change the annual rituals of college admissions is a daunting challenge, since many of us have grown accustomed to the idea that the path to the perfect school means focusing intently on personal metrics. But the report offers a roadmap of practical steps that school counselors and college admissions officers can take to reframe the process. The advice centers on one key idea: The importance of intentional messaging that colleges will place a high value on authentic community engagement and contributions to others.

FOR HIGH SCHOOL COUNSELORS

For high school counselors, already the primary coaches in the college search process, a report that elevates the value of personal commitments and authentic connection can help lead students in the right direction.

“It’s a great tool to have as a counselor, because I can point to it and say this Turning the Tide report suggests that colleges want to see that you’re engaging in authentic service,” explains Sarah Style, a guidance counselor at Newton South High School in Massachusetts. “It gives us an opportunity to say, this is what authentic service means, and this is what it doesn’t mean.”

Here’s what that can look like in practice. First, counselors can nudge students to expand their understanding of service; rather than framing it as “doing for,” counselors can help students see it as “doing with.” To prompt them to find meaningful opportunities, counselors can:

  • Stress service that is local, skill-building, and emotionally and ethically engaging. Counselors should make it clear that it doesn’t matter to colleges if service occurs in some far-off land or whether the students were leaders. Much more important is that it is an immersive experience that aids communities and helps the student develop skills and ethical awareness.
  • Remind students with significant family responsibilities, such as working to support their families, to include those contributions on their applications. These responsibilities demonstrate the same — if not greater — commitment and caring as community service, but if the colleges don’t explicitly ask, students may be unsure whether to include them.
  • Communicate to students that admissions officers are alert to service that is inauthentic or trumped up. Students should be honest on their applications about how much time they really spent on a project, what its impact was, and what they learned from it. Most college admissions officers will detect it if they’re not honest.
  • Continue to emphasize the importance of a challenging course load and good grades. Says Style, “I would never say to lie to a student and say, ‘Don’t worry about taking difficult classes because schools aren’t going to care about that.’ I do think they’re going to care. Colleges want to admit students who are going to be successful in their institution, and I think one of the signs of that is they’ve been successful academically.”

FOR COLLEGE ADMISSIONS OFFICERS

Changing college admissions is a two-way street. Beyond the work that high schools do, colleges will have to indicate to applicants the value their institution places on community service and ethical development — and what exactly service means to them.

To do that, college admissions officers can:

  • Include explicit opportunities on applications for teenagers to write about community service engagements or significant family responsibilities. Some students won’t explain a service commitment if they aren’t given the space to do so. Applications should also give examples of what students can include in this section. Students may not understand that caring for younger siblings or working on an anti-bullying campaign counts as authentic service.
  • Look critically at how service has impacted students. Admissions officers should use these written responses to assess how service has helped students become more cognizant of their strengths and weaknesses, deepen their understanding of communities different from their own, or develop a passion for social justice.
  • Ask recommenders to consider how students work with diverse groups.Along with asking teachers and coaches about students’ intellectual engagement, growth, and leadership, colleges can ask them to comment on how well students collaborated with people of different backgrounds or perspectives, and how those teamwork skills grew over time.
  • Consider the messages imparted through admissions materials. At the University of Washington, for example, the school’s key value is contribution to the common good, says Phillip Ballinger, the associate vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions. “And if that’s not being perceived by families and parents, then we need to make some efforts to change that,” he says. “That’s on us to think now about making a very specific effort to actively seek students who notably stand out as people of the community in terms of their service, their connection to others, or even in a quiet way in terms of their family.”

GETTING STARTED

At the University of Washington, admissions readers have a “holistic review process” that looks at what kinds of opportunities students have had in their high school, and how they have taken advantage of those opportunities. Essay questions examine students’ day-to-day responsibilities and commitments. “If they’re already contributing to their community before college,” says Ballinger, “that’s something they’re going to want to continue doing.”

Admissions readers at the University of Rochester are looking for students with a “developmental arc,” says Jonathan Burdick, the dean of college admission and vice-provost for enrollment initiatives. And while grades are important, “we are less interested in that than we are at all the other things they still have left to do in college,” Burdick says. “We care a lot about assembling a diverse freshman class with many different perspectives, and that doesn’t always align hand in hand with higher academic achievement.”

A recent essay question at Rochester has allowed students to more directly demonstrate this path of growth. The application asked students to respond to a quotation from Frederick Douglass, who lived in Rochester, that reads, “Man’s greatness consists in his ability to do and the proper application of his power to get things done.”

Through this question, says Burdick, “The university is trying to enroll and foster independent thinkers who are positive change agents in their communities, and we want to know how they approach that ideal and do that in their own community.”