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Every child can become a mathematician

My father instilled a love of math in me at a young age through challenging math riddles, logic puzzles, games and conversations.  I remember him casually presenting ways to push my thinking, challenge my abilities and have fun with numbers, shapes and logic.  This laid the foundation of an early confidence in me that I could think critically, mathematically, and logically.  But more importantly, it instilled in my young self the norm that math can be entertaining….dare, I say, fun!  He did this effortlessly.  It wasn’t something he made me do;, it was something fun for us to do together.  I don’t know that he could predict the impact that this kind of family fun would have on his three daughters because it wasn’t forced…these fun family times just happened.  

It’s been 15 years since I entered the education world as a high school teacher.  My goal each day has been to bring enthusiasm to the math world through my work with students and teachers.  I have watched thousands of teenagers pass through high school.  Many arrive in 9th grade saying (nearly bragging) that “I can’t do math!”.  I have found that I must remind parents at Open House that, “No matter what, please never say to your child, ‘I hated math’, ‘I was never good at it’, ‘It’s not in our genes to be good at math’, or ‘Math doesn’t really matter. I never use it.’”  

I have yet to hear a student enter high school boasting, “I can’t read!” It’s just not educationally or socially acceptable. Yet, we allow and accept this sort of thinking in regards to math. Math educators are faced with fighting a battle against a society that has been brainwashed to believe that math is boring and only important for some people. But, we know now, that isn’t true.  We know that engaging in math, critical thinking, and logic strengthens the brain, is attainable for all and is an indicator for future success for all children.

Each day, I fight the good fight, encourage my learners to believe in their ability to grow as mathematicians…each and every one of them.  Math can be fun and it is all around us.  Each child can grow their brain mathematically.  We are not born good (or bad) at math.  With hard work, a growth mindset, and a desire to improve, we can all master mathematical thinking.

Why then, does our society continue to view math as something for an elite, small, specialized group?

Literacy education has it right.  

Here is what the literacy world has taught us:

  • Having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 2010
  • The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school. National Commission on Reading, 1985
  • A single, brief exposure to good reading material can result in a clear increase in enthusiasm for reading.  Ramos and Krashen, 1998; Cho and Krashen, 2002

Here are the messages I have heard about developing readers:

  • Remember that learning to read and to read very well are crucial to your child’s well-being.
  • Surround your child with all kinds of books and make what she’s reading a topic of dinnertime conversation. Listen to the way she talks about books to ensure that her comprehension continues to deepen.
  • Parents should read to their child in the womb.  
  • It may take hard work, but everyone can learn to read.
  • Make it a family affair.  Read together.  Make it fun.

I wonder what impact we can have on kids if we change our messaging about math.  Go home tonight and work through a fun math puzzle with your kids tonight.  Smile, laugh and enjoy it.

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