Schools and Families - Connecting Over Mathematics
January 24, 2003
The Investigations in Number, Data and Space® curriculum is designed to deeply engage all elementary students in meaningful mathematics, and to substantially expand the pool of mathematically literate students. The Investigations Implementation Center is working to help schools collaborate with parents and families, who can be powerful advocates in children's mathematics education.
A Partnership That Benefits Everyone
As one mathematics educator writes in Schools and Families: Creating a Math Partnership:
"We have learned that working with parents to bring them into the process is crucial. Until all stakeholders are at the table, its really difficult to have a productive conversation about what math is and what it should look like for children. Parental and community understanding and support are requirements for successful mathematics restructuring efforts." P. Lofgren, Mathematics Education Collaborative (Oregon) (p. 147)
Engaging Parents as Partners in Improving Mathematics for All Students
The mathematical knowledge students leaving high school need to succeed in today's and tomorrow's world is changing. Because the Investigations curriculum is different from the math most parents learned in school, many teachers and administrators in schools using Investigations must consider how best to inform parents and families about, and engage them in, the mathematics their children are learning at school. In response to these needs, Megan Murray of the Investigations Implementation Center authored Schools and Families.
"As we worked with and talked to teachers and administrators from around the country, we consistently heard questions and comments about informing and involving parents and the community about mathematics. People who were just getting started with Investigations wanted to know how and when to have conversations with parents and families about mathematics. They wanted to know how to answer the questions they commonly heard from parents about this program," explained Murray.
Published by Scott Foresman, the publisher of Investigations, Schools and Families aims to help teachers and administrators answer such questions as:
- How do we engage parents as partners in the work of improving mathematics teaching and learning for all students? How can we garner community support for change? How do we earn and capitalize on the support of parents?
- How and when do we best begin (and continue) conversations with parents and families about changes in mathematics teaching and learning? What are the most common concerns? How can we best address them? What have other districts had success with?
- What can classroom teachers do to engage the families of their students with meaningful mathematics?
Getting and Keeping Parents Involved
Schools and Families begins by helping educators think about the barriers facing true partnerships with parents, and strategies for overcoming those barriers. Later chapters include one teachers methods for putting many of these ideas and strategies into practice in one classroom, one parents experience in becoming very involved in mathematics in her district, and a range of administrators perspectives on how to effectively engage parents as partners in achieving the best possible mathematics education for their children.
Throughout the book there are concrete suggestions for communicating and collaborating with parents. Many of these are suggestions or sample handouts from practicing classroom teachers. For example, the chapter on homework helps teachers think about how they might share their homework policy with families, help parents understand what homework will look like, and enable families to help students with math at home. It also offers many samples of how teachers around the country do these things.
"Because the work that Investigations students do can look so different from what parents remember, teachers told us it has been important to help parents see and understand the math that students are doing," said Murray. "For example, some teachers told us they send home newsletters that include information about the math as well as samples of how students are solving problems. Others told us that they make sure to have math-related displays in their classroom and the school. Still others told us about sharing student work with parents at Math Nights." Consider this example, a quote from a third grade teacher:
"On the second day of school I present an addition problem to my class and we look at all the different ways we can solve it. Usually there are four or five different strategies that I record on chart paper and post on the bulletin board. Then on Back-to-School Night, I share the different strategies the students have come up with for solving this one problem. I tell parents, "You may see this strategy, or you may see this strategy, or you may see this strategy. I talk the parents through the mathematics and really try to get them to understand the process of learning." (p. 113)
Says Murray, "The more we talked with educators in the field, the more we heard that there were some questions that were really common. Questions like: Why are you changing the way you teach math? How do you know this new way works? What about facts? Where are the flash cards? From these conversations we were able to come up with a list of the questions and concerns parents often have, and to provide many examples of the ways people respond to those questions."
Results In and Out of the Classroom
An objective of increased parental involvement is a parent body that is empowered to participate in their children's mathematics education on many different planes. As Murray writes:
Research has clearly shown that successful efforts at family involvement in mathematics benefit everyone: teachers, parents, and children [Ford, Follmer, & Litz, 1998]. Teachers who actively involve parents in their math program find many families get excited about mathematics. Parents become interested in how their children learn math. They enjoy doing math activities with their child, and they lend support to the schools efforts to teach math in a new and rigorous way. Children share their explorations of math at school with their families, and they share their experiences at home with teachers and classmates. The result is a learning community that bridges home and the classroom in meaningful and respectful ways. (p. 13)
TERC's K-5 Investigations in Number, Data, and Space curriculum is currently being used in over 700 districts and 2700 schools. The Investigations Implementation Center at TERC is working to support these schools and districts in improving mathematics teaching and learning for all students.