August 29, 2012

Raising a Mathematician for “Math-Nots”

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.

In “A Work Sheet for Math-Phobic Parents,”  Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal compiles some wonderful pointers and a great infographic for math phobic parents:

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.

Guest post by Jeanne Bernish

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3 thoughts on “Raising a Mathematician for “Math-Nots”

  1. Dig in, have fun and don’t sweat the notation!

    Hey – I like that (just made it up, but it sounds like a rockin’ math slogan, huh?)

    Daughter just turned three so I might have to watch her more closely with our classic legos – but I’m going to get them out.

  2. What a happy ending! I was okay in math up through calculus, which confounded me. My boys love math, and in their younger days, they were quite fascinating by numbers with names, googol and such. My first grade event got into an argument with his teacher over infinity and whether it was a number or concept.

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