It is Back to School time! As a high school teacher, those words make me cringe just as much your teenager. I have been enjoying my summer just as much, if not more than your high school student. However, it is time for both of us to get back to work.
Besides my blogging, I also teach high school math. That’s right, I am that teacher that most of you dread, or even avoid, on open house night. I am very aware of that fact that my subject is not the most popular of the high school courses. I am also aware that unless you teach high school math, you won’t apply the Pythagorean Theorem, recite the quadratic formula, or be asked to solve for x on a daily basis. Much of today’s technology has made the need for knowing the formulas and algorithms students learn in a high school math class mostly obsolete outside of the classroom.
However, that doesn’t mean that there is no value in it. What is at the core of any mathematics course is problem solving, and THAT is used everyday as an adult. Math is about finding a way to find a solution to your problem, and using all the resources you have at your disposal. That in an invaluable skill to have as a student and adult.
Oh, there is also that itty bitty detail about it being a graduation requirement for high school, and required to obtain many college degrees.
So no matter how you look at it, getting your high school student to pass his/her math class is actually important.
So what you can you as their parent do to help, especially if you weren’t the strongest math student, or it has seemed like forever since you used Algebra?
Here are some tips for how you can help your high school student in the math classroom:
1. Invest in a graphing calculator
It may seem weird to use the term “investment” in relation to a calculator, but as far as your teenager’s math education goes, it really is. I recommend purchasing a graphing calculator as soon as your students takes Algebra 1 (which for a lot of students, is now before they even reach high school). It may seem like $100 is a lot to spend on a calculator (how much was that iPod again?), but this calculator will follow them through their high school courses as well as their college level math courses. I recommend to my students the TI-83 Plus or TI-84 Plus (Silver edition is not really necessary for how they will be using it, unless they want the pretty colors and face plates). I have taught Algebra 1 up through AP Calculus, and this calculator works just fine for those courses and everything in between. These calculators are being used on more and more standardized assessments, including the SAT and ACT, so the more comfortable the students become with them and their capabilities, the better.
However, if purchasing a graphing calculator is not in your budget (keep an eye out for great sales on them during back to school time), another option is an online graphing calculator. One that we use in my classroom is Desmos.
2. Learn how to use the graphing calculator (and not for computations)
So to expand upon what I said above, it is important that students become comfortable with graphing calculators. Ohio will be transitioning to the PARCC assessment in the near future, and the calculator used for that test functions like a TI-84. The SAT, ACT, and other assessments use them as well. It is important that your student knows how to use the calculator so it is a tool instead of a road block on test day.
One of the great things about graphing calculators is exactly that: their ability to GRAPH. For visual learners, this can be huge for conceptual understanding. Graphing calculators allow for multiple representations of a problem situation, so that the learner can find a way that clicks for them. Having your student know what the calculator can do beyond simple arithmetic can make it a tool in learning instead of just a tool.
3. Read the syllabus
Don’t just sign the syllabus or toss it to the side when your student brings it home that first week of school. Look over it, or even POST IT on the refrigerator (WHAT?!?!?!). Be aware of what your student will be learning throughout the year. It can help give you ideas of questions to ask to check-in, or allow you to stay ahead if you are helping your student yourself.
4. Stop saying “I was bad at math too.”
Please! I beg of you! Stop enabling the idea that it is OK to be bad at math! I am aware that this might be the case for some of you out there, but that doesn’t mean the trend has to continue.
5. Become resourceful
You may think that since you struggled as a math student there is no way you can help you child in math. Remember, we have so many online resources around now that didn’t exist when we were kids. You can find the answer to almost anything online, high school math problems included! Here are some of my favorite online resources I point my students and parents to:
- Khan Academy
- IXL Math
- Math Bits
- S.O.S. Math
- Google! Just Google the problem or concept and browse what comes up!
- Ask the teacher if there are any additional resources that go with the book or curriculum they are using in class
6. Encourage getting after school help
Many teachers are available after school (or even before school) for help. Make sure your student knows his or her teacher’s office hours, and are using them. Also know what programs your school offers for math help. Math tends to be a challenging subject for many high school students, so a lot of schools offer programs after school to help struggling students.
7. For seniors, encourage study groups
I say “for seniors” for two reasons. First, seniors have a bit more maturity than younger high school students. This maturity and experience lends itself better to a productive study group. Second, because seniors are about to head to college. If you attended college, then you know that much of the learning that happens at this level occurs in student-lead study groups. Getting students to understand how to work in a study group early on will be helpful. I used to have my AP Calculus course hold their study groups in my room so that I could facilitate and make sure they were effective. If you student understands something and can explain it to another student, THAT is when the concrete and lasting learning happens.
8. Use tutors (especially peer tutors) as a last resort
There is a difference between peer study groups and peer tutoring. Peer study groups have norms, and the group holds each other accountable. In a one-on-one peer tutoring scenario, it becomes very difficult to keep the tutor from giving or guiding to the answer unless he or she has received training. Even older tutors have a difficult time doing this. This is why I try to use one-on-one tutors as a last resort. However, when it seems like there is not time of other options, or other options haven’t worked, this could be worth a try. Asking the teacher for tutor recommendations is also a good idea.
Best of luck to you and your student this year!
What was your favorite subject in high school?