• Tue, Oct 15 2013

My Kid’s Teacher Demands I Learn Math With My Daughter

mathI actually felt like throwing up during curriculum night at my daughter’s school when I heard these words from the math teacher: “And moms! You should not be waving off your daughters and telling them to, ‘Go ask dad for help! You should be learning with them!” FML, l thought. I’ve already gone through grade five math. To ask a sweeping question, I wonder how many mothers do this, passing off of the math homework to fathers. Hands up? Well, I do.

At least I pawn her math homework or any math-related questions to her bonus father. Why? Because I have way better things to do, like…nap or stab myself with a fork in my eye. Kidding. I do ask her bonus father to help her with her math, because I stopped understanding my daughter’s math questions in grade three, which was two years ago. I just wanted to moan to the teacher at cirriculum night, “I’m just NOT good at math. Never have been and most likely never will be, so suck it up buttercup. The math homework is going to her bonus dad, who actually understands!”

But because I am trying to be “mother of the year” at all times, when her first math test notice arrived, I sat down with her to look at what she was studying.

I was like, “Um, what the hell are they asking?” And then I asked, “Why the hell can’t they just teach you to memorize multiplication tables in your head like they used to do when I did math IN THE OLD DAYS at school?”

No, these days they have to write out not only the correct answer but also HOW they got the correct answer. So, the morning of the test, I gave her practice questions like, “What is 325×18?” and she would get to work figuring out the answer on one piece of paper, while I worked out the answer too on another piece of paper. Needless to say, I got a completely different answer to my daughter’s answer, which is why a calculator has become the most important item in my house, including the washer and dryer.

This is how bad I am at math.

I still have to count on my fingers. So then I just threw out her questions, while I sat by with my calculator, to see if she got the answer correct. She did pretty well, meaning she got most of the answers correct, according to my calculator. I was also a little offended by the teacher telling ME (a grown up!) that I had to learn it with her.

Sorry, teacher, I know you mean well and are a self-admitted “math nut,” but I did my time, thanks very much. I did grade five math and grade six and grade seven and grade eight all the way through high school.

But here’s the thing about this teacher. I love her. She actually understands that many students are terrified of math. So, for my daughter’s first test, she called it a “relaxation math test,” meaning the girls (my daughter’s school is all girls) could go in with a bathrobe or bring in their favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Now, THAT part I thought was fun, trying to figure out what my daughter should bring to make her “relax” during her math test.

My daughter came super prepared – slippers, a bathrobe, and some magic math rocks (that I had from a spa but told her they were “magical math rocks” that she should rub if she’s stuck on a question.)

I know what I’m good at and, by this age, I know that I’m bad at math. Also, I’m busy. I don’t have time for a career, being a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter AND go through grade five math again!

My daughter scored 95% on her test. Either she’s actually really good at math. Or it was the magical math rocks.

(photo:  Sean MacEntee)

You can reach this post's author, Rebecca Eckler, on twitter.
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  • Janok Place

    I think it’s key we show some enthusiasm about any topic brought forth to our children while they learn. It’s positively crucial we do NOT label them with gender stereo types. Shame on the teachers for singling out mothers, as if to say women are innately worse at math.

    There are topics that I am good at, and topics my husband is good at. Either way I think it’s important we show respect and value the importance of each in the presence of our children.

    With that said. I HATE math.

  • Kathryn

    Maybe I don’t understand because I never had a particular problem with math as a child- but I really don’t understand. You’re “offended” that your child’s teacher thinks you should be able to do fifth-grade math and that, in this culture, you might not want to send the message that math is a boy thing by passing it off to daddy? I mean, I’m not about to multiply two digit numbers without a calculator in my daily life either, but taking the time to do it to show my daughter that women can be competent at math seems like a good idea.

    • blh

      I don’t think it’s just “women can’t do math” after a certain point, my dad couldn’t help me with it either. I think most parent have trouble helping their kids with it when it gets advanced, bc really, why would you remember stuff like algebra? You don’t do it anymore so you forget it.

    • You don’t do it anymore? I’m a housewife and while algebra isn’t a part of literally every single day, it is something I use on a regular basis. Probably upwards of 4-5 days a week. Most people do, especially those with a good understanding of what math is and how it can be a useful tool. And yes I don’t necessarily remember every single thing from my high school calculus classes, but it would be pretty easy to skim the lesson and have it come back to me.
      Isn’t that what parents want for their children? To not just mimic something for a test, but to truly learn and understand it so they can retain it for a lifetime? Why hold yourself to a lesser standard?

    • Blueathena623

      Curious — what situations are causing you to use algebra?

    • Paul White

      I can’t remember the last time I had to solve a multi-variable equation.
      I use basic computation, basic geometry , VERY limited probability (mostly via Punnets squares) and that’s really it. I don’t know the last time I had to graph an equation, figure a geometric proof, know the sine of a triangle, or solve for an unknown variable.

      I also think you overestimate how much of us really understood math in school…I have my strengths and weaknesses. Math is definitely a weakness. Some of it is one truly godawful teacher, some of its just me.

    • Shea

      Exactly, I use basic arithmetic, percentages and basic geometry (I’m a quilter, otherwise I’d never use geometry) on a regular basis, but I do it all with the aid of a calculator. There’s no way I could do long division on paper, never mind anything above 6th grade level. I learned enough algebra in high school to pass the tests, and then promptly forgot however much of it I’d learned. I do think it’s asking a bit much to expect parents to be as proficient at math as the math teacher, even at a 5th grade level. If I was that into math, I’d be a math teacher. It’s not unreasonable to expect parents to help their kids out with homework, but it does seem like the teacher is being a little over the top on the subject.

    • Rachel Sea

      When I was a kid we were forbidden from using calculators because no one would ever be walking around with a calculator in their pocket. If I had a time machine, one of the many things I would do would be to go hit my 7th grade math teacher in the head with a smartphone.

    • blh

      When do you use algebra?? I never even took calculus so I know I don’t need that in real life. Of course I want my son to do well in school and I’ll be very happy if he’s.good at math but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stress over the fact that I can’t do it. If he ever saw how I struggle over it, that sure wouldn’t be break in any stereotypes that girls can’t do math.

    • Blueathena623

      Calculus is good for physics, but otherwise I don’t know of any other uses for it.

    • Armchair-ette

      And trig is good for playing pool. That’s the extent off my higher maths in real life knowledge…and I’m a grad student in a statistics heavy field.

    • Blueathena623

      Yup, that is the most important thing I learned in 8th grade math — how to figure out where I need to aim a pool ball or a putt putt gold ball in order to sink it.

    • DMH

      Oh puh-lease. I couldn’t roll my eyes any harder at this if I tried…

    • Larkin

      Sure, I use *basic* algebra and geometry fairly regularly. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I could figure out the area of a rectangle, or the circumference of a circle. I could hold my own helping a kid with elementary school math. But I’d be lost with anything beyond the basic, everyday kind of stuff. I haven’t used upper-level math for over 10 years, and I have no reason to think about it much, so I would have no idea how to do anything beyond sixth or seventh grade math anymore.

    • Armchair-ette

      In what ways do you use algebra with that frequency?

  • Cee

    I hated math until I was asked to teach it.

    I sought the support of good math teachers I knew. I also watched them teach. If you like her teacher, maybe ask her to help you a bit so you can help your daughter?

    Now that I understand it, I like math. I like finding different ways to find answers and solving somewhat complicated stuff.

    While you may not like math, you should show interest in it so your daughter does not automatically hate math either. Let her know that it is an interesting subject. Many people today don’t think girls can be good at math or science. I take my job teaching STEM subjects very seriously because I know small girls are watching me and hopefully seeing that they can take an interest in these things as well.

  • blh

    I completely agree with you. If my child needs help in math, He’s getting tutor. I’m a busy woman and I don’t have time for that crap. And quite frankly, I’ve gone through it once and I won’t be doing it again, thanks. I’m in college now, but by the time my son is in school, I’ll be done. Kids get way too much homework these days anyways, from what I hear, It’s not fair to expect parents to devote hours EVERY might basically doing their kid’s work. We have enough to do.

  • jmuns79

    My nephew’s fifth grade math teacher keeps snarkily reminding her students that, “This is not the way your parents learned it.” So she’s actively discouraging parental help. Which sucks. My poor sister feels like a caveman asking the teacher for study guides and web resources to help her kid with his homework.

    So I think your daughter’s teacher actually sounds pretty awesome by comparison. I think showing your daughter that you do have some limitations, but you’re willing to learn, or work with them sets an awesome example.

    • Justme

      Soo…you were there in class to hear how she said it? Quite frankly, the way many elementary schools ARE teaching it differently because they have the scientific evidence to back up the fact that the traditional way of teaching math doesn’t really help kids learn WHY math works the way it does.

    • jmuns79

      Well, I didn’t mean that her tone was snarky, but rather that the fact that she keeps reminding the kids this. I get maybe saying it once, but it’s apparently said on a regular basis. I feel like it makes the parents look bad. I’m a teacher myself, and I would never continuously say negative things about a my students’ parents or the way that they learned. It makes my nephew think his parents are too stupid to help him.

  • Guest

    It always makes me sad to meet people who hate math. I wish you’d had better teachers who could show you that it’s not something to hate/fear/whatever. Your daughter’s teacher sounds awesome, though, so hopefully she will have a better outlook on math in her future! (I do understand not wanting to do something you dislike – it’s just a shame that you didn’t have good experiences with math as a kid so you dislike it now.)

    • blh

      Sometimes people aren’t interested/aren’t good at something. That’s life. You’re not going to be amazing at everything you try. Even when I understand the material, I hate doing math. it’s extremely tedious. It wasn’t my teachers fault either.

    • AP

      For a large population of people, too, the math you learn in school stays in school. I was an A student and enjoyed math well enough, but aside from one brush with Boolean logic proofs in a 100-level CS class, I only needed to use stats and basic algebra in college, and basic arithmetic and stats after. My husband’s a STEM post-doctoral researcher, and he mostly writes scripts for Matlab and R and interprets the results, which is a whole skill set of its own.

      Neither of us has ever had any cause to do a geometry proof, use paper and a pencil to graph the coordinates of a parabola, or find the cube route of a negative number in our day-to-day life. And by the time we have teenagers, we’ll be 35 years removed from having done them. Even though we once were A math students, practice still makes perfect, and 30 years of no practice won’t get you very far.

    • Paul White

      To this day my reaction to algebra includes rapid shallow breaths and a slight trembling of my hands, accompanied by an inner desire to throw the book across the room.

    • Larkin

      I don’t hate or fear math… it just doesn’t interest me whatsoever and never has. I actually was pretty good at math back in the day, but it excited me about as much as learning how to fold laundry would have. It’s not always hating/fearing math… we just all have different things that interest and inspire us. For people who are actually terrified of math for whatever reason, that does bum me out… because it’s sad to never really give something a try because it scares you.

    • Shea

      I have dyscalculia (aka math dyslexia) that prevents me from understanding everything but the lowest levels of math. And because the perception of all my math teachers was that I was “scared” of math or “just not trying hard enough”, I went through school thinking I was just stupid. I was finally diagnosed when I was 20 and in college. So yeah, I hate math. Sorry if that gives you a sad.

    • http://www.heatherlauraclarke.com/ Heather Laura Clarke

      Wow, I’ve never heard of dyscalculia, but it sounds like me! I’m horrible at math — I used to cry inside my desk during math lessons because I was so afraid of being called on — and I know it will be hard for me to help my kids with it. But I’ll be a great homework helper in other areas, so it all evens out.

  • AP

    Whichever parent is best at the topic should be helping with the topic. Assigning tasks by gender and not ability/knowledge is not something to teach children. Part of being an adult is knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and knowing how to find someone who helps you overcome them or compensate for them is a key part to adult success- not stubbornly doing something badly because of a gender role.

    • Shea

      Very true. My mom was an elementary school teacher, so she helped me with my math when I was at that age, not my dad. By the time I hit high school, neither of my parents could remember how to do it, so I had to get tutoring. Never did understand algebra though. Oh well.

  • https://www.facebook.com/bluegrasskitty bgk

    They’ve done studies that show that women who are mothers and/or teachers are unconsciously passing on their own anxiety over math to the next generation of girls. :( I’ve seen the results of mothers who say “Oh, I’ve never been good at math! Go ask your father!” to their little girls and it’s not fun. :/ I was lucky that my father was actually a mathematician, so I went to him automatically without ever asking my mother for help since it just made more sense, and so I grew up loving math and being comfortable with it. But SO MANY incredibly intelligent little girls at my old after-school program were ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED they could not do math and would give up before even trying. I even had one little girl who’s mother said to her “So long as you pass it, don’t worry about your grade. I wasn’t good at math either” and tbh, I wanted to shake that lady until her teeth rattled. :( EVERYONE can be good at math. I’m not talking Einstein level, but basic math? Yes, everyone can do it. If you like music, you can do it. If you can bake, you can do it. If you can figure out how much paint you’ll need for your house, you can do it. People use math ALL THE TIME and never realize it. I wish more people would embrace it because it’s everywhere.

    • Katherine

      I like this comment a lot. My spouse and I are in a weird boat in that we are both chemists, so our kid will have a person of each gender to go to for help with science and math problems. But I have two colleagues where he is a chemist and the wife has another profession with 10-12 year old girls who are already gendered in to think math and science is a “boy” thing. One of them is a pretty oblivious misogynist, so I try to just council the daughter when I see her in multiple subtle ways, but the other actually asked me to sit down with her and tell her what I do, that I was always a minority as a girl, but it was okay (even awesome), etc etc. I do think it is important that we model equal behavior. That being said, it is a lot to add on to a day. As long as children are encouraged, things should work out in the end

    • Ptownsteveschick

      My mom is really really good at math, and her ability to do all the problems in her head just made me more anxious about not being able to do them. Damned if you do,damned if you don’t

    • pixie

      My mom is freakishly good at math, too. When she figures things out in her head she doesn’t use formulas like what I had pounded into my head when I went through school. I wish I could be that good at math. I was pretty good at it when I took it up to grade 11, but because I don’t do it on a regular basis anymore, I’ve forgotten a lot. My mom once told me she’s glad she never had to “show her work” in school because she didn’t know if she would have been able to. She knew the answer and how she got to it, but it wasn’t with the “proper” formula.

    • Pumplestilskin

      My sons only negative comment from his teacher this year was that he can do the math in his head. When I asked why that was a problem his teacher said, “For the tests he has to show the work. He gets frustrated when he has to show his process”. My son started doing multiplication when he was in kindergarten because his older sister was bringing home homework with it. He picked it up quicker than her. Now his math grades are suffering because his new curriculum demands that he show the work and the process is foreign to his brain.

    • pixie

      I honestly wish I could do math in my head like that, but once the school system got ahold of me, there was nothing anyone could do to save me from being conditioned to “show my work”. My parents taught me the basics before I learned them in school, but the school got their hooks in real fast. Now I’m so out of practice that I always double guess myself when I have to do basic math and check my answer against a calculator.

    • https://www.facebook.com/bluegrasskitty bgk

      I do the problems in my head, too, because that’s how I was taught. It doesn’t help much in school where they want you to show every little step and more than one teacher insisted I must be cheating because of it (one even made me take my midterm on the whiteboard during lunch so she could watch me to make sure I was doing the work). So when I teach our little girl (yay homeschooling) I’m going to have to relearn how to slow down and write the steps out. LOL Suuuucks.

  • Magrat

    My kids will be going to their father or grandmother for math. They’ll come to me when they have to conjugate Greek verbs.

  • Haradanohime

    Maybe I’m the odd one here. I can do math (especially with the formula in front of me) but I hate it. To me it was boring and dull. Women disliking math does not always equate to not being able to do it. Also things taught in 5th grade math are things I learned in 7-8th grade. By the time I have children, They’ll probably be learning Calculus in Elementary school. Don’t assume “5th grade math” is what YOU learned in 5th grade.

  • S

    I’m not good with math and mostly hated it but I’m more offended that the teacher singled out moms when he/she could have just said “parents” and “spouse”. I knew plenty of guys who weren’t good at math either.

    What helped me most in math was having a friend who was at the same level as me and working on the problems together. I did really well in stats in grade 12 because we would work on the homework problems separately, then work together and help with whatever question the other didn’t get. Any questions we both couldn’t figure out we took to the teacher during office hours.
    I’d like to try to do the same for my kid. It might not work and I might not always have time but it’s worth a shot. And since I struggled through math from about grade 5 on it won’t take long before we’re trying to figure stuff out together.

  • Tired of the excuses

    I think it is absolutely disgusting that it is socially acceptable to whine “I’m just not good at math.” If you were to say, as an adult, “I’m not good at reading,” or, “reading is like, really hard, guys,” people would judge the everliving snot out of you. So why is it okay to admit to being bad at one (and thus giving yourself an excuse to not even try), but not the other?

    • Paul White

      I have a hunch you’re one of the people that can’t teach or explain math to save your life.

      As far as reading: When it comes to it, EVERYONE reads these days. Not for recreation, but for work at least. Just like everyone does basic math. But when it comes to stuff like calculus, or even pre-k or anything beyond very basic algebra? I studied my ass off to barely pass it in HS and couldn’t pass it in college. In 12 years when my kid is in middle school, I’ll be 20 years removed from using something I was never adept at. That isn’t like asking someone to help read a basic chapter book; that’s more akin to asking someone to critique Kafka from a Marxist perspective (to further your analogy)…and I promise you a lot of parents couldn’t do that either.

    • Tired of the excuses

      You shouldn’t rely on hunches; I work as an in-class math aid (Professor lectures for an hour, then I take over, answer questions, and assist anyone who didn’t understand or missed the lecture) and professional tutor. And I’m fucking awesome at it. Just because I have little sympathy for those who make excuses instead of making an effort doesn’t mean I don’t give 100% when helping them. And frankly, when people stop making excuses (I’m just not good at this) they usually start succeeding. My question wasn’t “why is math exactly like English?” It was, why is it okay to accept defeat in one, but not the other? Math is used daily and most people are better at it than they realize, but because they’ve been taught that it’s perfectly acceptable to simply say, “I can’t do this,” and accept an (albeit passing) D grade without putting in the little bit of effort they need to get that C or B.

    • Paul White

      Yes, math is used daily. SOME math. Not calculus, trig, etc. Again, refer to my comment. Saying that because I use computational math daily I should be able to help someone with calculus is like saying that because I can read an email I should be able to help someone decipher symbolism in Tolstoy.

      Accepting that some parts of math are incredibly difficult for me, and that I had a *shaky* grasp on them after busting my ass for 3 semesters decades ago, so maybe I shouldn’t be the one to help Sam with calc, isn’t “making excuses.” It’s recognizing that my wife would be much better suited to helping my kid do that math (at least past the very basic level).

    • Blueathena623

      My husband is going back to school to get his first degree. He does not like algebra and “is not good at it”, or so he tells me every single night. He has to take two mini-mesters of algebra before he starts his regular classes. He just finished the first one and got an 84 on the final exam. The amount of time he spent studying for that class has blown my mind. I am so proud of him.

      And the thing is, he’s smart. But algebra and above just does not come easily to him.

    • Rachel Sea

      If you ever speak with someone who harps on the reading thing, tell them that 50% of all Americans NEVER read another book after high school, 26% of American adults are functionally illiterate, and only 24% of American adults read proficiently. In my county, which has average ranking schools, 74% of graduating 12th graders do not test into English 1A at the community college (and the community college is presently teaching a curriculum nearly identical to what I learned in 7th grade, except these college kids are not required to use correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, or syntax). Anyone who thinks that everyone reads is showing privilege, bias, or ignorance.

    • lou

      But we’re talking about elementary math here, not trig or calculus. I don’t think anyone expects parents to explain advanced math – I wouldn’t expect my dad to explain my senior calc or chemistry. But while your kid is in elementary or middle school, you should be able to help them with their math. It’s sad how many people are proud of their sucky maths-ness (not including those with dyscalculia here, my husband has that and it suuuucks for him).

    • Blueathena623

      Math and reading aren’t comparable. Reading crosses all subjects and written language is everywhere. There aren’t many daily needs for trigonometry.

    • Jayess

      I absolutely flipping well love reading. “Taking my book away” was always the punishment that my parents doled out. So, yes, I have certainly judged people who “can’t read.” I’ve always thought “IT’S THE FUCKING ALPHABET.” However, my husband has struggled mightily with reading his entire life, and it was something we actually had to work through in our marriage. He has actually said, more or less, “reading is like, really hard guys.” So, “Tired of excuses” does have something of a point: some things are really hard for people, but we do expect them to soldier through. My husband hated (hates) reading, but has soldiered on to do his master’s degree in an arts faculty. I think it is possible that despite the “hate,” we could encourage both kids and grownups to soldier on with the math anyways. Who knows where it could bring a person?

    • Lissa

      Agree! And, let’s not forget, RE wasn’t talking about advanced calculus but grade 5 math! Surely that falls under the umbrella of basic math skills? As well, one wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) judge a person for not enjoying Tolstoy but how about an adult who looks at their grade 5 daughter’s novel study and can’t help her with it, saying “I’m just not good at reading.”? Pretty sure we can agree that that wouldn’t fly. There is nothing wrong with not being good at math or reading, but undervaluing it by perpetuating the “I suck at math” excuse isn’t helping anyone. FWIW, I see nothing wrong with sending the kid to the spouse who is better at the subject, either.

    • Blueathena623

      One thing I would like to point out is that the techniques for teaching math has changed over time. When I was in 2nd grade I believe it was called Touch Math, and I still see dots on numbers in my head. Then there was new math, and making math real, and probably half a dozen others. Of course the answers are all still the same no matter what method you use (assuming you do it correctly!) but getting to the answer may differ. Reading, however, has kinda stayed the same on the parental unit. Help a kid sound out a word, supply definitions when need be, etc.

    • Rachel Sea

      That’s fascinating! I was not taught math that way, but it’s how I do arithmetic, I see every number as being dotted as though on a die. I was supposed to learn by rote, but I sucked at it, and so “cheated” with the dot thing.

    • Blueathena623

      Yup, that was in 1989 or so. I still mentally count the dots some times, especially with 7′s

    • Armchair-ette

      About 1/4 to 1/3 of the adult population of the US and any large metro area reads below the fifth grade level (functional literacy). So…a lot of parents might say “I’m just not good at reading”.

    • Rachel Sea

      I’m great at math and I have had an impossible time helping with 1st and 2nd grade arithmetic, because it looks nothing like any math I have ever seen.

    • Blueathena623

      I am all for math. I really like it. I do mental math for fun and come up with fake math problems just to solve them. And I do (silently) judge people who can’t even figure out what amount to tip without using a calculator/app. I think people either use math a lot more than they think they do. At least I hope they do. And I think this is one of the reasons why kids and adults dislike math — they weren’t given enough information as to how math will impact their daily lives.

      But math and reading aren’t tit for tat comparable in terms of life skills. And honestly, if an adult told me (going off the original comment, not your husband) that reading was really hard or they weren’t good at it, I wouldn’t judge them, just suggest that maybe they get checked for a learning disorder.

    • Jayess

      That’s a super great point. They aren’t the same. And I noticed below you mentioned there are different techniques for teaching math, which is also a good point. Since reading is fairly straightforward to teach (sound out the word, supply definitions, etc), maybe it is just that more people (small and tall) need new techniques introduced to them for their math instruction. I’m not strong at math, but I like it anyways. I’m likely to be on the hook for math OR reading homework in the future. Dear sweet husband probably does have a learning disorder, to be frank.

    • Armchair-ette

      Good point, though there are actually a ton of different ways to approach reading instruction. The two biggies are whole language (if you grew up in the 80s or 90s, this is probably how you learned–sight words to whole sentences with less emphasis on decoding) and phonics (starting with sounds and tons of decoding). Most people can learn one way, but not another. And some people are actually incapable of learning to read.

    • blh

      Because you read pretty much every day and anorhibg beyond basic math isn’t necessary, unless you have a career in it. Besides, I know a lot of people who are bad at reading. There is literally no reason for me to struggle to learn math at this stage on my life. Why would I ?

    • Shea

      Ever heard of learning disabilities? For people with dyslexia, reading actually is “like, really hard”. They’re going to learn to read, but they’re probably not going to do it for fun and they’re not going to have the warm fuzzies recalling their reading education. For people like me who have dyscalculia, it’s exactly the same with math. I’m glad math and reading come so easily to you, but some people aren’t so lucky.

  • Blueathena623

    I like math. I’m good at math. If any of my kids need help in math I will brush up and help them. But I also know that math is being taught differently these days, compared to how I learned. I was watching a friend’s kid do some multiplication, and it seemed way more involved than how I learned it.

  • Sarah Todrick

    So…. teacher (and parent) here. Not a math teacher, middle school social studies actually, but I see how my kids handle math and science every day,and I’m a huge proponent of women in STEM fields. First of all I have to say I’m shocked at the attitude that the author (and some of the posters) have about education in general. “I put in my time, so too bad for the kid”… .but you’re more than happy to shove it off on your significant other? You don’t have to be perfect. But you sure as heck need to show your kid that her education is a priority, and that it’s not cool to pass it off to someone else when you don’t know how to do something. Nobody is asking you to do her work for her. But modeling problem solving skills and how to stick with something even though it’s *gasp* hard or un-enjoyable? That’s being a parent. Heck, that’s being an adult.

    If your partner knows more about a subject, great, go ask them for help. But girls need to see their parents as educational role models– both parents. Don’t know how to do the work? Show your kids how to research, use their textbook as a reference, re-check their notes, and problem solve. If you’re not sure how to do those things, get help and learn how to.

    • Paul White

      So among our busy schedules of trying to work and raise a family, go back to school to? Nah, did the working/school thing when I was single and it sucked hard then. Don’t want to think about trying that with a school aged kid.

      I think you’re also underestimating how damn hard it is for some people to understand and learn math. For me, I tried going to the math lab a couple times a week back in college–and I still failed college algebra three damn times.

    • Pumplestilskin

      My husband and I know our strengths and when helping our kids with their homework they do too. I help with math and Biology, earth science (anything nature related) types of sciences. He does math and history. We both help out with current events. It is what it is. I have tried to figure out how to help my kids with their math homework and it’s no go.

    • Pumplestilskin

      I should say, my oldest daughter loves math. It used to be her favorite subject. Until last year when she was struggling so she asked her dad for help and he told her, “oh, well you’re doing it wrong, that way is hard, try this” She came home with every question marked wrong. Why? because even though the answers were right and the way her father had shown her how to do it made it click in her head, it was not the way they would have to do it on the test. She had to re do the entire paper, even though her answers were right.

    • Haradanohime

      Teachers like that make me angry. That is partly why some teachers ask for the students to show their work, so they can see the formula used to come up with the answer. Just because a teacher shows one way does not mean it is the ONLY way. Unfortunately there are those teachers out their still that think their way is the only way and by golly you WILL do it their way. I think that is wrong. If they come up with the correct answer and show how they got it then that should be taken into account not automatically marked wrong for getting a correct answer, unless the instructions are specifically use such and such a formula to solve this problem then MAYBE. But a decent teacher(IMO) would at least given partial credit for a correct answer.

    • Muggle

      That’s why I HATED showing my work in math classes in school. I was horrible at math, nothing ever clicked, I fumbled through each class the whole year/semester just wanting it to be over because I wasn’t learning anything. Nothing made any sense at all, except in 11th grade trig and my college math class. So I just felt really embarrassed having to show my work, knowing I was just making shit up as I went along.

      Sometimes, I knew exactly what the answer was, but I didn’t know HOW I knew it and I didn’t know how to translate the process from my head to the paper.

    • Paul White

      That sucks :( I can possibly understand it though; from what I remember, there’s more than one way to do a lot of math, but a method that might work (even for a lot of problems) might not be a correct method since it could return false results sometimes.

    • Allen

      That’s a possibility. Also, sometimes teachers want students to master certain techniques because they need to be able to use them for stuff that comes up later, or because it lays the foundation for things they’re going to be learning. Though, I think teachers should be flexible when it doesn’t matter, and it sucks not to give *any* credit for correct answers. I also think expectations should be clear. Whenever I took a test, if a question required you to do things a certain way, it would say so.

    • Rachel Sea

      In real life, right answers matter, how you got there doesn’t. Because standardized tests show math problems in painfully stupid ways, kids have to be taught to do their work in inefficient, and illogical ways so they can score well twice a year. It’s ruining education.

    • Sri

      As another teacher, I agree. I teach science, so still not math, but another “boy subject.” I see so many students that don’t have parents that value education, and it’s just so much harder to get them to be invested and take responsibility for their education. Also, when parents are anxious about their ability levels, it makes the students anxious, too, especially when their parent is the same gender. I would be so happy to send my notes home to parents who aren’t comfortable with the material to try to help them out, just like I would be first in line to ask for my child’s social studies notes. It’s not that I’m bad at it, I just never know exactly what details they leave out to make it kid friendly.

      In my class, I don’t let students stop when they have trouble. I triage students, and I tell them that they should be looking in their books for the answer until I get to them. 75% of the time, they answer their own question. I’m sorry, but I should not be the sole supporter of the “Don’t know something? Look it up!” philosophy in your child. I’m also so so sick of kids INSTANTLY crying when they don’t know something. I understand that not knowing things can be frustrating, but a breakdown the instant they have trouble solves nothing, and I shouldn’t be the only one instilling that, either. I deal with NT middle school students, so there’s really no reason this should be an issue, other than parents allowing the students to give up at home.

      She’s not talking about trig and calc in her story. She’s having trouble with 5th grade. 5th grade is fractions, graphing, and place value according to common core. It’s possible that her school has a different curriculum, but I don’t think learning how to convert fractions and graph is really that out there. I convert fractions all the damn time! If you ever use a recipe, but don’t cook for the number of people on the recipe card, you probably have to work with fractions. It’s a pretty essential life skill.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      Eckler’s Canadian, I think….So, not common core.

    • ElleJai

      I don’t even know what those terms mean. I’m Aussie for one, for another while told I’m gifted at math I rarely got a teacher with the ability to make it click in my head. So I got bored and dropped the entire thing ASAP.
      As far as “show your working” goes, it’s nonsense most of the time.

    • Justme

      Show your working while a child is learning a concept is incredibly helpful because when a student comes to me for help, if there is some sort of work shown it gives me insight into the piece of the puzzle that they are missing. Is it a simple addition or subtraction mistake? Or do they not understand the concept as a whole? If I can see where they messed up, it gives me a jumping off point for how to help them. I don’t make kids show their work because I am some sort of Math Nazi – it’s because I want to make sure my students are understanding the concept.

    • ElleJai

      That makes sense. I’d still like a middle ground, ie if you’re struggling, do a few showing your working, if you just get it, then you only need to show three or four workings and you can do the rest normally…

    • Justme

      With my Algebra kids I’m a little more strict about it because there are SO many steps and it’s easy to get screwed up pretty quick. But with my 8th grade math kids, it just depends on the competency of the child. But usually the kids who “get” it show all their work and the ones that don’t, show minimal work. The ones that are struggling are the ones I’m continually reminding to show their steps.

      ETA: I had to correct this post twice. Apparently I shouldn’t type and drink vodka at the same time…

    • Rachel Sea

      People survived for millennia without 5th grade math, it’s not that essential to life.

      I’ve fallen into work where I use tons of arithmetic, a fair bit of algebra, and the odd bits of geometry, and trig, I’m good at math where others often aren’t, so it’s worked for me. If I were not good at math, I would have fallen into different work. I know plenty of people who make great livings, and who literally never do more math than is required to split a dinner cheque – and that they do with a calculator.

  • Fabel

    Whatever, I’m on Eckler’s side here. OF COURSE “boys can do math, girls are always bad at it” is a poor message to send, but she doesn’t have to learn the math in order to send that message. I am legitimately terrible in math, always was, & yeah, sorry, I wouldn’t be able to do 5th grade math with the shit they’re teaching them now. That doesn’t mean it’s not valuable— it just means I wouldn’t be able to help my hypothetical child out in that subject.

  • Renee J

    I hope I never have to help my kids diagram a sentence. I’ve completely blocked that from my brain.

    • Rachel Sea

      I could gladly put, “I told you I’d never need to know how to diagram a sentence.” on my tombstone. Biggest waste of time, ever.

  • Sara610

    I think the “magic math rocks” thing is really cute.
    I started to believe at a very young age that “I’m just not good at math”, and from that day on I really dismissed anything related to STEM as a career possibility. Which sucks, because now as an adult, not only do I find science hugely fascinating, but it turns out that I’m actually not inherently bad at things like math and science. I’m happy with the direction my life has taken, but I wish I hadn’t been so quick to dismiss the possibility that I might actually have an aptitude for things like math and science.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    I’m the worst at math. I will be of zero assistance past grade eight or something. That’s when things started to fall apart for me. Or hell, who knows. Maybe with new curriculums I’ll be useless even earlier. Math sucks. It’s important and everything, but it’s the bane of my existence.

  • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

    I teach sixth grade English and I really dislike when parents help too much. I know that sounds crazy, but I know the parents can pass sixth grade. I like that parents are involved, and/or encouraging. But I don’t think you really need to understand every aspect of the kid’s math to be her mom. It’s really hers to learn, not yours. My parents NEVER ONCE in my entire educational career sat down and did homework with me. They both worked full time and there were farm chores to do when we got home. They assumed I did my work, and I did. Maybe if they’d have been more encouraging and hands-on, I’d have been a straight A student, but I don’t regret the fact that they trusted and expected me to do school on my own. I think this was the norm when we were children, right? Why is the norm now that you will sit by your child through every step of the homework process? I say, it’s okay to not be 100% helpful with her math, Rebecca.

    • Rachel Sea

      Homework is bullshit. Kids are in school eight hours a day, and then they are supposed to come home and do another three? If my job sent me home with three hours of work to do every day I would quit, ANYONE would quit. Homework should be voluntary extra practice for those students who need it, not the bulk of a child’s grade.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      I don’t give it very often. If you do have homework in my class, it’s usually because you wasted time I gave you to work on it.

    • Justme

      And most progressive school districts are getting rid of the idea of drill and kill mandatory homework. I don’t give homework. I provide “suggested insurance” problems that they can complete for practice and then use as “insurance” for bonus points on the chapter test.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      See, where I teach we get hauled in to the director’s office if we don’t assign it for more than a couple of classes per semester. It’s dumb.

  • Chrissy

    I think this is a lot like other kids’ classes. It’s why “Are you Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” became a show. Adults, we don’t remember those things. I have a lot of useless random knowledge. I can discuss British literature like a champ or teach you social work methodology. Don’t ask me to find X on a triangle because I legitimately don’t care.

  • Audrey

    I work as a substitute teacher and am frequently relied upon to teach math with little to no prep. I think the biggest problem for me, and one that might also be an issue for parents, is that it has been so long since I actually had to think about the fundamentals of math that it’s nearly impossible for me to explain it. Long division, multiplication, algebra? Yeah, I can do it. But it’s been second nature to me for so long that it’s really difficult to break it down into its most basic elements and actually teach it to some one.

    Also, a lot of the schools teach totally different techniques that just weren’t used when I was in school. So I can show a kid the way I would do it, but that isn’t the way the teachers want them to learn it, so it’s not really helping them in the long run.

  • Rachel Sea

    I’m really good at math, I always have been. Thinking I was hot shit, I offered to be my friend’s daughter’s go-to math tutor, starting in first grade. Well apparently it does not matter if you are good at math if the writer of the worksheets sucks at English. Knowing how to do arithmetic, knowing how to teach her to do arithmetic is useless in the face of instructions which don’t mean anything, no matter which way you read them. Not only does she have to do the math, but every single problem includes some extra comprehension problem like, “draw a line under the smallest number, and circle the largest number” but with much, much worse syntax, and constant misuse of math terms. When she gets bad marks on her homework, it’s never because she didn’t do the math correctly, it’s because we couldn’t figure out the right answer to “draw a squigle over the primary.”

  • Justme

    First of all, I know I’m so late to the game on this article…and quite frankly, I tried to stay away because some of the comments gave me a bit of rage-stroke. But alas, I feel as some sort of “expert” on the topic of math and kids, I must weigh in.

    Yes. We want students to understand the HOW and WHY in subjects because that’s the only way they are going to be able to utilize the knowledge in new and different ways. When material is taught in a rote, drill and kill manner, they memorize enough to pass the test but then can’t apply the knowledge in any real life, practical manner. So in order to truly prepare students for the road ahead, educators have to teach children to question, understand and apply the process of learning and not just the information.

    I am an 8th grade math and algebra teacher and am finishing up the most difficult part of the curriculum for my algebra students. When I send these kids out into the real world, do I expect them to pull out a chart problem whenever they are stumped with a situation? Absolutely not, but by doing the complicated chart problems I’m *hopefully* teaching to approach a problem, break it down into pieces, think about what they know and do not know, then how to use that information to create a solution to the missing piece. THAT critical thinking problem is HIGHLY valued in the world, regardless of the type of job my students ultimately go on to have.

    And Rebecca, kudos to helping your daughter study for her test – perhaps you could have her explain the information to you (even if you don’t really understand the method she’s using) because “being the teacher” is one of the best ways for a student to synthesize information. It forces them to choose the right words to explain their own personal thought process, thus cementing their own understanding of the concept.

  • Not That Rebecca

    Sorry, any functioning adult should be able to do Grade 5 math. This isn’t a woman thing, it’s an ignorance thing, and it is not something to be proud of. Nor is your attempt to conflate your ignorance with your femininity.

  • organicpoppy

    I’ve had my 1st grade parents tell me they can’t help their child with Math homework because they themselves can’t do it. 5th grade math now is not the same 5th grade math you had. It might not even be the same 5th grade math an older sibling had.

  • Sc Davis

    A quick hypothetical:
    A parent knows their senior in high school can only read at a very basic level. When the student’s parents and teacher meet to discuss, the educator begins to stress how crucial reading is to being successful outside of the classroom. Reading truly is everywhere in this world…

    The parents’ response:
    I believe some people can read and some can’t. I even struggled with it while I was in school. It really is just one of those things you either get or you don’t. I didn’t get it then, so why try now?

    It may be obvious to some, but now change the subject from reading to mathematics.

    To parents who want their kids to go on to college, please take advantage of all the free math resources provided by the school district. No matter anybody’s feelings toward the subject, anyone who wants any degree MUST pass college algebra. Math is still the number one reason why so many drop out of college.

    To be blunt, if you and your kid’s math homework seems hard now, wait until they get to college. The gap of math ability between the two is astronomical, it is why there are so many remedial math courses offered in colleges. These courses cost money and don’t count toward any degree.

    No amount of griping, complaining, and whining matters. College professors LOVE it when parents believe they have influence, they don’t. It’s hilarious to them, and often other students, when they share them with everyone.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      Actually, not true. Here in Canada many universities don’t require math. In fact, the one I went to (which is generally ranked in the top 20-30 in the world, if you think I was at a diploma mill or something) didn’t even require math from Grade 12, except for certain programs. I’m sure you wouldn’t have to look hard to find a decent university in the US that requires the same. You don’t need math for ANY degree, come on.

    • 2Well

      Most degree programs in the United States require general education courses, and that includes math. Many trade programs at community colleges even require basic college algebra.

  • anotherteacher

    Maybe, just maybe, if she had learned HOW to do it, she would still be able to do it. Instead of just memorizing times tables and then forgetting them. Just a thought.