Friday, December 3, 2010

Odds and Evens Week of 12-1-10

  • Here's my most recent Twitter Problem of the Day:

How many 3-digit positive integers are there in which the absolute value of the difference of their hundreds' and units' digits equals 4?

For students: Reply on Twitter, Facebook or my email ( by 12-6-10.
For everyone else: Comments are always welcome but please hold off on solutions until 12-6-10. Thanks!

  • I've been contacted again by the Education Editor of Parent Paper magazine, a well-known publication here in North Jersey.  I was asked to write a piece on helping parents to help their children with schoolwork, particularly in math. I'm reprinting here in full since it will be most likely edited down to a few sentences. Most of the general suggestions are obvious but sometimes I feel that the obvious needs to be stated. I'm basing this on my experience with 7 children, 4 grandkids and over 30 foster children.
General Suggestions for Parents Helping Children With Assignments

  • TV, radio, music, any other distractions turned off when your child comes home after school.
  • Establish a consistent location where they will do their homework every day -- dining room table, coffee table -- preferably in the same room as parent until they are older
  • Establish a routine where the child takes out the assignment book, folders, etc., before their snack.  If you do it for them, they will come to depend on you for this.  Have them hand you their parent folder with all papers you're supposed to read, sign, etc.
  • It's up to you but I would allow the child to have their snack while they start their homework.  Be less concerned about the mess and remember, if they're not allowed to start homework until they 've finished their snack, I guarantee you that snack time will extend for longer and longer periods of time (even if you say the have to finish in 15 minutes!).
  • If they ask for help, ask them to read the directions out loud. If you then ask them what it means or what they are supposed to do, many children will reply something like, "I don't know. I don't get it. I can't do it!"  You know your child best. If you believe they are capable of the assignment, you can help them get started and then say you have to do something, but you'll be around if needed.
  • If you cannot make sense of what the assignment is, then ask them to explain it. If they can't, the issue may be they are not yet ready to neatly/clearly copy the assignment form the board. Address this with the teacher the following day.
  • Ask the teacher whether they prefer voicemail, email or face-to-face questions after or before school.  Ask them if it's ok if they occasionally email concerns.
  • Establish a "social" network of parents in the class - take the initiative!  Set up a class group on Facebook so that parents can help each other with clarifying assignments. Parents can routinely check in.  If electronic networking is not feasible, go back to the tried-and-true getting phone numbers from 2-3 other parents thus making a smaller network.  Trust me, you will need to use this often unless your child is mature, organized and responsible/independent, in which case you will be helping others! 
  • Keep repeating to yourself the Golden Rule of Parenting: THE MORE YOU DO FOR YOUR CHILD, THE LESS HE/SHE WILL LEARN TO DO FOR HIM/HERSELF !!
Specific Suggestions for Math

  • Most children have more difficulty with the wording of the directions or of the problem than the math itself!  Try to break it down for them.
  • Don't be too quick to correct their mistakes. When checking over their work, try "I'm not sure about #5. Would you tell me what you did?" Most of the time they can correct their own errors!
  • It is important to become familiar with your child's math program.  You will probably already have heard about it through the grapevine, but you can find out what it is even before school starts by asking the office or leaving a message for the math specialist in the district.  Go to any meeting the school offers to introduce parents to the math program. 
  • All new math programs come with extensive parent resource materials. You should receive these regularly but don't hesitate to go online and find them for yourself!  
  • Be prepared to ask questions, but don't start tearing the program down b/c you've heard there are problems with it.  The program will not be changed in the current year no matter how parents may feel.  
  • Recognize that every math program, whether more traditionally skill-based or reform-oriented (more problem-solving, projects, less drill) has its merits and its weaknesses. Whether you believe there is too much emphasis on basic facts (less likely!), or not enough, you can supplement with the myriad of resources on the web.
  • Don't be shy about asking the teacher for guidance with your child or with the math program itself.
  • Remember: MATH IS ALL AROUND US ALL THE TIME!  Ask your children lots of questions involving numbers and shapes around them. For example, "I need to cut up this square into two equal parts. I know an easy way (like this) but I think there's more than one way. Can you help me?"OR  "I have a riddle. What movie comes before Toy Story 1000?" OR Place four quarters on the table. "Can you give me a dollar?" Put coins back. "Can you give me a half dollar?" etc... 
  • Never assume a concept is too hard for them. If simplified, they can often find a way.    

  • And now for the latest offerings from my 3-year old grandson. The last time I posted his "muffin" comments, I had more views than from any math post in 3 years!
    • My daughter has been trying to get him to go to sleep without her staying in the room. She told him that his 3-yr old cousin, with whom he is very close, is getting big now. My daughter commented, "Her mommy reads her a story, gives her a goodnight hug and leaves." My grandson replied, "Do you think I could do that, mommy?" "Of course", my daughter replied, to which my grandson immediately came back with, "Ok, but not tonight!"
    • He is all boy, all the time.  Aggressive, loves contact sports and is becoming a rabid NY Giants football fan like his daddy.  He wears his Giants shirt on game day and can throw his little football with velocity.  After seeing him throw the football a couple of times like a pro the other day, she said, "Wow, you threw the football really well, twice." "No, mommy, only once", he replied. "Are you sure? I saw you throw it twice", my daughter asked.  "Yes, mommy, the other time was the highlights!"

"All Truth passes through Three Stages: First, it is Ridiculed... Second, it is Violently Opposed... Third, it is Accepted as being Self-Evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer (1778-1860)

You've got to be taught To hate and fear, You've got to be taught From year to year, It's got to be drummed In your dear little ear You've got to be carefully taught. --from South Pacific