Just the mention of the word can send shivers up the backs of
many. Memories of algebra problems you never thought you would
solve or geometry tests that you never thought you would pass can
keep you up at night. Yet, as parents, we try to push these ugly
math flashbacks to the back of our mind, and do our best to
convince our children that "math can be fun."
And believe it or not, these days, it can.
From the teacher who came up with the "12 Days of Factoring" song
or the companies with the kid-friendly websites, learning math is
now enjoyable and taught to be more practical than ever before by
teachers that recognize that everyone is geared to learn math in a
"More so than in previous years, students are now expected to know
their strengths and weaknesses in math and what they need to do to
improve," explains Andrew Gilhooly, Secondary Learning Leader, and
Head of Mathematics at British School of Chicago. "There is no
ceiling to their learning in any grade which can mean a class has
multiple levels of differentiation ensuring that all students are
progressing and learning. No student is 'treading water'
(completing work they already know) or 'drowning' (trying to
complete work that is far too difficult and they are not able to
"Here at Waldorf, we strive to make mathematics fun, challenging,
and humanly meaningful," explains John Trevillion, 8th grade
teacher at Chicago Waldorf School. "The last thing we want is for
students to think that they can't do math."
In some cases, making connections from math to other subjects'
curriculum is just what the students need to better understand what
can often be difficult skills.
"Often the light bulb goes off for my kids in Algebra when I show
them how the math skill I am teaching correlates with the science
experiment they did last week," says Clare Detzler, middle school
math teacher at DaVinci Academy in Elgin. "Math should not be
taught in a bubble. You need to make math make sense to
Often, this means pointing out real life examples of how all of us
use math in our daily life.
"There is something to be said for mental math skills," adds
Detzler. "Go shopping and ask your child what the price of the
sweater is at 30% off. Let them learn what it's like to figure it
out in their head and teach them how to estimate first so they
would immediately know if a number (or answer) makes sense or
Of course, no skill can be mastered without daily practice, and as
students reach their middle school years, much of this practice
will occur both in and out of the classroom.
"Our teachers usually engage the students in quick, on-your-toes
mental mathematics," says Chicago Waldorf's Trevillion. "By 8th
grade such activities can be quite challenging, involving multiple
operations that include powers and roots."
Re-enforcement of these sorts of math skills outside of school
time is also vital, but thankfully, there are now a bevy of
websites that make it possible for parents to better support their
child's studies at home.
"These websites have the ability to help the child learn if they
are doing the problem correctly, and also teach them what they
might be doing incorrectly," says Beth Blaetz, Director of Teachers
and Learning at Quest Academy in Palatine. "There is also usually a
fun component where they are awarded with various virtual rewards
that they seem to love."
Supporting teachers in their quest to instruct their students in
mathematical studies is often via the help of associations such as
the Illinois Council of Teachers in Mathematics (ICTM), in which
Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) Mathematics Faculty Member
Dr. Don Porzio was just named as President. Dr. Porzio, who is in
his 14th year of teaching mathematics at IMSA, said his primary
goal as ICTM President is to increase membership to the
"One way I hope to do this is to work with the Board and members
of ICTM to make our web site the "go to" place for mathematics
teachers and teacher trainers in Illinois," Dr. Porzio said. "To
this end, we already have created an ICTM YouTube channel
(ictmmedia) where you can find video of the ICTM pre-conference
keynote address by IMSA charter mathematics faculty member Sue
"Understand that mathematics learning, like all learning, does
increase over a child's development," concludes Holy Cross
Principal Janice DiVincenzo. "Hold high, but realistic expectations
for children regarding their responsibilities for math
assignments. Encourage them to utilize the online resources
available to them and utilize those resources themselves if they
are not feeling they can support their child. Provide positive
reinforcement and support of the child's independent efforts at
improving their math achievement. Have patience, the "aha" moments
may come later for some students than for others, but that does not
mean they are not learning."
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