Top Ten Tips: Helping Your Daughters with Math

1. View yourself as learning with them, rather than teaching them. Pose problems that you don’t know the answer to yourself, and work with them to try and solve them. Don’t be afraid to drop the problem if no answer appears – you may be surprised a week later when your daughter comes to you with a solution or an interesting angle to try.

2. Emphasize co-operation over competition. The average girl responds better to a social, collaborative environment rather than trying to do better than others. Encourage your girls to do math with friends, and to practice putting concepts into words.

3. Do encourage them, but make your encouragement specific, mathematical, and based on intellectual achievements rather than effort. Do say things like “you found a good strategy to use on that problem” or “that picture you drew really captured the problem well”. Don’t say “that’s okay, you tried hard”.

4. Pose real-life problems whenever possible. You may be the rare parent that enjoys drilling the times table, but your daughter likely doesn’t enjoy being on the receiving end. Instead, look for situations day to day where math could be used. If you only have enough bread for three sandwiches, but there are four of you for lunch, how can you cut the sandwiches to make it fair?

5. Turn the tables so you can model mathematical problem-solving. Ask your daughter to show you what she did in math class. Ask her to give you an example of an easy, hard, and medium question from class. Solve them if you can, talking out loud about how to approach them based on what you know or remember. Don’t worry about giving up – she may offer to help you, or you can praise her for being able to do them when you can’t. Ask her to explain what’s easy or hard about them – you may get valuable insight into what skills she has, and what she’s missing.

6. Help her to see the connections between various topics. Girls in particular need to see the bigger picture, but with as many as 53 individual curriculum expectations to be covered in a year, teachers and textbooks sometimes resort to teaching small, individual ideas that only take one or two classes. Help your daughter to use creative techniques such as mind maps to lay out the whole year so far, brainstorming the connections between everything that has been done. (This is also a great study tool!)

7. Pose open-ended problems with more than one solution. Outside of school it’s rare to encounter a math problem that only has one answer. In the sandwich example above, each person gets ¾ of a sandwich – but that’s not the interesting part of the problem. There are an infinite ways to cut the sandwiches so that each person gets ¾ – which way is “best” is up to you and your daughters, and you get to pick the criteria.

8. Use a calculator and any other forms of technology you have available. As the Ontario Ministry of Education says, “Operations can now be accomplished quickly and effectively using technology, so that students can now solve problems that were previously too time-consuming to attempt, and can focus on underlying concepts.” Rather than finding the volume of a drawing of a cylinder with all dimensions integer lengths to make the math easy, find the volume of all the cans in the pantry, using a calculator to do the calculations. Use spreadsheet programs for collecting data, doing calculations, and creating graphs. Being able to interpret a graph is more important a skill than being able to draw one.

9. Practice can build confidence when used well. Encourage your daughter to reflect on what skills she finds difficult and time-consuming, and find workbooks or web sites to practice that skill in isolation. Help her to decide how often and how many problems to do, but let the final say be hers.

10. Chances are if you mention estimating, your daughters will roll their eyes. It is a useful technique that has been over-used in current textbooks. Instead, encourage her to get started on a problem by thinking what range of values would make sense. If the problem involves the ages of a parent and children, for instance, she might say that the parent’s age should be something between 20 and 50, and the children should be between 1 and 20. She may also realize that the answers will be whole numbers.

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