I admit it – I am no mathematician. In my own defense I went to school during the peak of the American Imperialist/Metric Wars of the late 1960’s forever souring any delight learning maths might have held with the constant need for converting measures one way or the other. Added to that unusual curricular split road is the fact that there were low expectations at my school for girls in the subject during that era. Foreign language would do quite nicely as a substitute (same part of the brain, I suspect) so I excelled instead in German class from high school through college. My ability to communicate in German was quite beneficial during the time I travelled through Europe in the 1980’s but it failed to assist when I sat for the Series 7 exam. To this day I rue the fact that my maths education was so abysmal.
One of the great benefits to being a parent is that you can define a different course of action for your children than the one you experienced. I’d like to think that my husband and I – both of us “math-nots” – were able to fool our children into thinking we were “math-haves” when they were little. Later, as more and more complex math questions came home from school, I already had bookmarks on Wolfram Alpha and the Khan Academy website and a good friend at the end of our street with her Masters in Mathematics from UNC Chapel Hill.
It is possible for a math-phobic parent to raise a quant, but parents need to change their behavior, researchers and educators say. This means halting negative talk, mixing math games and questions into daily life just as they do reading and spelling, and encouraging kids to dive into tough math problems and not be afraid to struggle.
To that list I would add: 1) as many Legos as you can find 2) any fun math activities 3) liberal sprinklings of trading card games that require quick calculations and long term strategy and 4) finding a mathematician who can explain concepts the way only a mathematician can.
The final chapter has yet to be written but I will be taking my oldest, currently a senior in high school, to visit colleges this weekend. He plans to major in math.