Bringing Math to the Middle School Table - Part 1

By John Stevens posted 10-08-2018 12:34


“Ugh, really? Math? Pffff, c’mon. Can we talk about anything else?”
- Most middle schoolers any time a parent tries to bring up something math-y 


How many pipes do you see? How did you count them up? Can you think of a different way to approach that stack?

This picture, taken on a drive home with the kids in the back of the car, brought forth a ton of great ideas. For me, I took the stack and cut it up into pieces, then found a length and width to determine an area. You didn’t do that? Great! What was your approach? How about your child’s?

There’s something enjoyable about working with students in the middle grades. Their candid responses, their evolving perspectives on the world around them, and their desire to be grown up without being toooooo grown up all make for an interesting concoction of emotions. As the parent/guardian of a middle school-aged child, you are certainly aware of the complexities that come with them. You want to help your child with the academic side of their development. You want to support them on their path to success. You want them to feel loved, cared for, and appreciated.

And math can play a beautiful role in all of this.

It can be daunting to think about how a parent/guardian can support their child as they move into the middle years of their education, so here are some ways to do so without feeling like it is forced or fabricated:

  • Start with the obvious
    • It seems clear, but oftentimes it is not. Math presents itself in nature and in common life happenings on a regular basis.
    • There is no need to dig deeper to “find” the math concepts that your child is currently learning. Number sense prompts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) are all helpful in keeping our minds fresh, regardless of the age or grade we are currently attending. Even using prompts like the one above can be a foundation of deeper learning.
    • Especially for our students in advanced classes, parents often feel like they are of no help. After all, it has been ____ years since they were doing that type of math, if ever. Finding the curiosity-provoking prompts can be a challenge at times, but there are a lot of great options out there.
  • Speed doesn’t matter
    • Remember those timed tests you took back in school? Perhaps you remember your child taking them in elementary school as well. Fortunately, research is showing that the timed tests are not as effective as once believed, and this bodes well for you engaging with your child in a math-based conversation.
    • Sure, there needs to be some sort of timer, but do not discourage your child when the process slows down.
  • Don’t force it
    • When--not if--your child doesn’t want to engage in that great math-based prompt you found, give it some time. After all, there is a lot going through a tween/teenager’s mind. Avoid giving up, but letting your conversation sit on the back-burner for a while can have positive returns.
  • Explore together
    • You don’t have to feel like, or take on the role of, a classroom teacher. Being in the same space and working through problems alongside your child shows that you are willing to learn, too. When kids see their adult role models engage, they watch. Now is the perfect opportunity for you to sit down with your loved one(s) and talk through your thought process, develop new models and approaches, and learn together, no matter your academic accomplishments.
  • Let your curiosity wonder/wander
    • Over the course of a day, I take in sights and wonder about a lot of things. Many of them are trivial and not helpful, but there are some insights that I simply must share with someone else. Whether it is my significant other, my kids, students, colleagues, or a notebook, the idea of noticing the world in which I live and wondering about its beauty makes for a fun conversation. Involving your child in the process gives them an idea of what may be in the world around them and opens up more chances to hear their insights as well.

While these tips are not a guarantee that your child will sprout a deep love for mathematics and the mess, beauty, and intricacy it brings, my hope is that using them to incite some conversation will lead to some fantastic mathematical discoveries.

In the next three posts, we will explore a variety of ways in which the everyday setting can be fodder for good mathematical discourse. Or, to some, just a fun math-y conversation. Either way, I look forward to the next few weeks!

Thank you for bringing math to the table.

John Stevens