I’ve gotten into the habit of writing blog posts in the evening. For the last few nights, my daughter has asked me for help with her math homework right about the time I planned to write for my blog.
Obviously, I’ve been helping with math. Decimals and fractions. I really enjoy teaching Grace about math, but the problem sets take a while to do.
For those of you who will find yourself in the same position in a few years, I have a few observations to share.
1. Dang, those arithmetic skills deteriorate over time. I’m quick to reach for a calculator.
2. It can be difficult to know what approach to take in helping out when you aren’t sure what approach the teacher is taking. I’m always trying to be careful not to do something different than what they do in class.
3. I see how the need for repetition and the “everydayness” of math homework can be wearing on kids. Grace is a very good math student, but she doesn’t have, at this point, the fascination and curiosity I had (and still have) with working with numbers and patterns in numbers.
4. No matter how fascinated you might be with the implications, analogies and directions the homework can take you, it’s important to keep in mind that the task is really to get the 30 problems done and when you are at problem 25, your digressions will not necessarily be as interesting to your child as they are to you. Make an observation or two rather than launching into a mini-lecture.
5. Similarly, even if you are in a hurry, keep the burden on your child to take the responsibility for doing the problems. Be aware of the line between helping and doing the work for them.
6. Monitor the amount of work and the time spent carefully. If it seems like too much or the homework is too difficult, let the teacher know. Teachers want that type of feedback and they don’t often get it. If you can prime your child to go in and ask the questions they have, it’s even better for everyone.
7. I think it’s vital to create an atmosphere of support and understanding, and adjust your approach to what works best for your child. It’s nice to hear your spouse telling you and others that you are a good math teacher.
8. I’m starting to believe that there are three lessons you can really help with: (1) emphasizing and showing that doing math problems may be more about reading carefully than doing the math, (2) encouraging the notion of showing your thought process as way to help your teacher see where you might have gone wrong, and (3) constantly showing ways to check your results.
9. Be open to what this exercise teaches you about yourself and what memories it brings. Not all of them will be pleasant. These can help you make a better experience for your children.
10. Remember that, while blogging is cool, there are better things you can be doing with your time and that it never really hurts to take a few days off from blogging to prove to yourself that the world will move along just fine without you.
I’ve rediscovered in the last few days how much I enjoy just playing with math problems. By the way, one of the positive memories I’ve had recently is how thrilled I was when I got my GRE results back as a college senior and saw an 800 as my score on the math portion. Unfortunately, I hesitate to mention that because some people who have never met me or talked to me personally used the occasion of my 2004 blawg awards post to take public pot shots at my lack of sufficient humility to meet their exacting standards. I’m probably inviting further criticism on that score. They should be pleased to learn, though, that my math skills have moved steadily downhill since then, but, darn it, it was cool when I saw those results. The ironic thing is that I respect their work and their blogs, but wonder if they say the same kinds of things to people in person that they write on their blogs. I suppose it will be a little awkward when we meet in person one of thse days.