Angela Garland and her husband Torry thought they were well prepared to help their elementary school children, Caroline and Ellington, with their math homework.
“My husband and I both have advanced degrees and we thought we were smart, but we still didn’t recognize what the kids were doing in second-grade math,” Garland recalls.
That frustrated the parents, but delighted the kids.
“They took great pleasure in the fact that I didn’t know how to do it the same way they did,” Garland said with a smile.
So Garland decided to find out why the math her children were doing looked so different from the math she had done in elementary school. She emailed her children’s teachers and signed up for a free, three-part parent math class offered by Cherry Creek Schools. Called “Guiding our Children to a Mathematical Future,” the class helps parents understand how math methods, standards and teaching strategies have evolved over the years.
“Research shows that an emphasis on ‘fast facts’ or the memorization of math facts without meaning, actually deters students from being able to reason with mathematics and decreases the chances of success in higher level mathematics classrooms,” said Jennifer Overley, elementary math coordinator for Cherry Creek Schools. “We know now that flexibility with numbers based on their quantities increases students’ ability to reason and solve problems. Fluency of math facts is very important and a goal all teachers should strive to attain with every student; it’s the pathway used to support students in attaining that goal, which is different from when we were math students.”
The parent math class has three sessions. The first helps parents understand how students develop number sense or mathematical understanding. The second session focuses on multi-digit computation and the rationale behind best instructional practices. The third session continues to build parent knowledge and focuses on how parents can help kids at home. Parents leave with an understanding of why their children’s math experience differs from their own and why their children may solve problems differently than they did.
“There is less emphasis on procedural knowledge and more focus on conceptual knowledge,” said Overley. “We have a better balance in the classrooms now – less computation and more problem solving, thinking and reasoning.”
Angela Garland sees that in the work her son is now doing in fourth grade.
“I was worried that he didn’t have his multiplication facts memorized, but after the class, I relaxed a bit because he was still getting the right answer, just using a different method to get it. His way is legitimate too.
“I appreciate that they’re learning more than one way to do math. It encourages curiosity – ultimately preparing them to do more complex math. The kids are clearly doing more in math than what I did at their age,” Garland said.
She gives the parent math class high marks and strongly encourages other parents to attend.
“It helped me to be more confident in what they’re doing and how I can help them,” she said.
The parent math classes will be offered again next year, starting in August or September.