Many years ago I was talking to my students about my own children and one of them said to me: “I bet you do math with them all the time, right?” My initial response was to deny it, but after reflecting on the question I realized that in our household mathematical thinking really was part of our everyday life. Most parents do a fantastic job reading books to their kids at night, taking them to the library and making sure they work on their summer reading list. However, in many households there is an imbalance between fostering reading and fostering math. In this sense, I am referring more specifically to quantitative thinking, rather than traditional mathematics. Even though quantitative thinking and mathematics are closely related, I think of quantitative thinking as a way to apply numbers and logic to everyday situations.
At Avenues, fostering quantitative thinking is one of the main goals of our math program. For example, in 6th grade students compare prices of items at different supermarkets and then decide which one is the best buy. Students also use graphs to understand issues of social justice and analyze the graphs to determine the urgency of the issues. Students choose their dream job and after researching national salaries on the job, they check rent prices and other costs of living to see if their dream job would allow them to live the life they want.
Certain board games and puzzles foster quantitative thinking.
However, students spend at most 45 minutes a day with their math teachers. Fostering quantitative thinking in children works best when families and teachers are partners. To me, the most important or successful way of fostering quantitative thinking at home is to permeate it in students’ daily lives. Families can easily increase the use of math in their daily conversations. For example, you can ask your children to estimate the restaurant bill (or any other bill) and compare their estimates to the actual bill. When your child asks for cereal, instead of asking them whether they want a lot or a little, ask them whether they want one cup, two-thirds of a cup, and so on. If it’s 7:45 in the morning and you want to leave in fifteen minutes, tell them you want to leave in seventeen minutes and ask them what time that would be. Read the newspaper together and look at the numbers you find. Critically analyze the graphs and numbers you see in articles; discuss sale flyers, sports statistics, etc. Ask your children to calculate the tip at a restaurant, to balance your checkbook for the summer or to keep a spreadsheet of expenses or manage your vacation budget. When you are at the supermarket, ask them to estimate the cost of the purchases or find unit prices in order to determine the best buy. If you’re going on a road trip, ask them to find out how many miles per gallon your car gets, then to project how long it will take to get to your destination, how often you will have to stop for gas, etc. If you are traveling to a different country, discuss exchange rates and put them in charge of calculating different costs in dollars.
A student plays a math game.
A more obvious but still powerful way to foster quantitative thinking at home is to play board games and puzzles that require the use of quantitative thinking. My favorite ones for middle grades students are Set, Tenzi 77 Ways to Play Tenzi, BrainBox Maths, Make 7, Mindware’s Q-bitz, Happy Cube, Smath or Equate (a math Scrabble game), Mindtrap, 24, Tangoes, Tri-Ominos, Krypto (number puzzles), Snafooz puzzles, 24 and Mastermind.
Math can be a lot of fun!
- Number puzzles such as Kakuro, Sudoku and Ken-Ken.
- Martin Gardner’s books such as My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles and Aha! Gotcha.
- Brian Bolt’s books such as More Mathematical Activities and Even More Mathematical Activities.
- Paul Sloane’s books such as Learn How to Think Sideways, Classic Lateral Thinking Challenges and Lateral Thinking Puzzlers.
- Logic puzzles books such as Sip & Solve: Logic Puzzles (Sip & Solve Series) by Mark Zegarelli, Logic Puzzles to Bend Your Brain by Kurt Smith, Armchair Puzzlers Book: Logic Puzzles by University Games.
- Books published by Mindware such as Number Junctions, Math Path Puzzles, What’s the Missing Part of the Equation?, Venn Perplexors or Math Perplexors 7 and Lateral Thinking Puzzles.
In A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, Joan Allen Paulos wrote, “Mathematics is not primarily a matter of plugging numbers into formulas and performing rote computations. It is a way of thinking and questioning that may be unfamiliar to many of us, but is available to almost all of us.” Make math part of your daily life. Our world is a quantitative world. Working together with your children to increase their enjoyment of mathematics and help them feel confident in their ability will enrich their lives.