Partnering with parents can be a blast! In this episode Pam and Kim describe how they organize and run math nights to help parents experience mathematizing and get excited about what their students will be learning.
Pam Harris 00:01
Hey fellow mathematicians. Welcome to the podcast where Math is Figure-Out-Able. I'm Pam Harris.
Kim Montague 00:09
And I'm Kim Montague.
Pam Harris 00:10
And we make the case that mathematizing is not about mimicking steps, or rote memorizing facts. But y'all it's about thinking and reasoning, about creating and using mental relationships. We take the strong stance that not only are algorithms not particularly helpful in teaching, but that mimicking algorithms actually keep students from being the mathematicians they can be. We answer the question, if not algorithms and step by step procedures, then what?
Kim Montague 00:41
So we're in the middle of a series right now about working with parents. And so in this episode, we want to challenge you to have parent math nights.
Pam Harris 00:51
Yeah, so we've done parent math nights, and all sorts of scenarios. Title One schools fluent in schools, public schools, private schools, all different. Sometimes both parents come, sometimes single parents, sometimes after school, sometimes evening, all walks of life. Sometimes we provided childcare and a meal, others not, whatever was needed to provide a space for parents to come and invest, be able to mentally dive into a parent math night.
Kim Montague 01:25
And you might be used to a yearly math night, it might be part of what your school already does, where it's an information session to talk about grades or your course syllabus. And for students to show their parents around the class and play some math games together. Those are fine, but it's not what we're talking about. Right now we're talking about a more intense learning opportunity for parents.
Pam Harris 01:47
...that we think is really important, that this is gonna, this is something that we would really suggest that you sink your teeth into. So let's describe what we mean by a parent math night by talking about some things that we've done. One thing that might surprise you is that we do math with parents. And to be clear, that esoteric math.
Kim Montague 02:13
Yeah, not a word brain teaser right, or like logic puzzles about building some problem solving. And there's nothing wrong with those I actually love them. But stuff that parents can recognize as mathematics that they're students working on maybe.
Pam Harris 02:28
Yeah, we think that you're not going to serve yourself well, by doing stuff that parents don't recognize as important. Again, we're not saying that it's bad or not good or enjoyable math. But you're going to gain more here in this particular case, by doing things that will simultaneously help parents understand your math class and what it's going to be like this year. And it will help their students be successful in stuff that parents know is important, like computation and solving equations and passing high stakes tests. Do we like those tests? Not particularly. But are we aware that those tests are absolutely important gateways for their students? Yes. But we contend that thickers and reasoners will always do better on those than rote memorizers. So how do we make that case to parents? Well, we're going to do it in these parent math nights. Another thing that we could do in a parent math night is share some expectations.
Kim Montague 03:33
Yeah, so I actually mentioned this a little bit last week. But this is an opportunity to share not just individual teachers in their classrooms, in a conference or in a newsletter. But this is an opportunity for a school or an entire group, like a grade level, to share expectations and tips that they're going to have for parents, when working with students. This is what I'm going to be looking for. Here are some expectations from your student.
Pam Harris 04:00
As a complete grade level perspective, or ideally a school perspective, we are behind this, we are together in that. And we also think that it would be important in a parent math night to make sure that you have time for parents to ask questions. And that you have sort of a question answer kind of, you know, field some questions. You can do that live or you might gather questions, if you're worried that you're going to have too many or that you're not going to be able to field them, you could gather them and then kind of maybe answer them at the next parent math night or in some other way if you're kind of worried about answering them off the cuff. But I want to return to the most important part that we think needs to be included, and that is actually doing math. And again, like we said, math that's recognizable, that parents are going to be clear, "Oh yeah, yeah, my students need to know how to do this." To do that, we recommend Problem Strings, that you actually do a Problem String with parents. Thumbs up. Wait time. Ask the question, give parents time to work the problem. Have the conversation about mental math, doesn't mean it's all in your head, it means you do it with your head. So yes, you can keep track of your mental thinking. But no, we're not hoping that you do the something rote memorized. We want you to actually use relationships. Call on somebody with their thumb up. Give them experience of this private signal. Represent their thinking how they solved it. Maybe represent another strategy, so that we can sort of compare strategies as the Problem String goes on, we would probably recommend a strategy building string kind of narrowed down and only focus on the target strategy. Like you're literally facilitating this Problem String, the same way we've done it the podcast, the ways that we suggest that you facilitate a Problem String with kids who are learning math. So that parents get an experience of learning some math the way that we're going to be doing it with students in classrooms. So by the end of the Problem String, you're doing things like, "Wow, I'm seeing this strategy showing up all over the place. Like, tell me how would you verbalize what so and so just did. You know, because you're asking parents to suggest what they are... so Kim, that strategy you just use? Could you put some words to that? Ooh, can somebody described what Kim just said? How would you describe her thinking." And you're having them restate each other's strategy. But you're using a Problem String, that is helping them use relationships and get those relationships to ping, so that strategy starts emerging through that Problem String. And by the end of it, your goal is to get parents mathematizing. So you can say, "Ha, that thing you just did, you just did right there. That's mathematizing. And we want your students to do that as well."
Kim Montague 06:43
And I think that's really the most important thing, because often what happens at parent math nights is we have teachers invite, or leaders invite parents in and they sit them down at a table or desk, and then they just talk about what math is going to look like. Right? It's like, "Let me tell you what it should look like." But instead, we're giving them this experience, so they can actually feel what it means to mathematize. Like you just said.
Pam Harris 07:09
Yeah, which is gonna be really important that when the student comes home and says, "My teacher won't tell me anything, or they're not telling me the steps," especially the older the student gets, if they're used to that. The parent might go, "Oh, yeah, like, I've experienced that I know what's going on? How are you thinking about that problem? Like, that was really cool when I did that, and found the strategy. And, you know, tell me more about how that's working." It just gives the parent a lot more of a perspective of what we're trying to achieve in that math class. So that, again, we're partnering with parents. They have an idea of what's going to be happening. And as the student comes home, on a positive note, it might be, "Hey, tell me about the math that happened today. I'm really curious. I learned a strategy when I went to parent math night. What strategy are you working on? You know, what kind of relationships are you? Wow, this is really cool. My kid's brilliant. I'm so glad that my student is being involved in education that's happening this way," that we're really inviting students to share what they're thinking about and helping facilitate more development, more growth, because of the way that we're teaching math. So I think it's also, Kim, going to be really important to find the sweet spot of the math that you do, of the specific topic, the Problem String that you do. So I think hard about am I going to do math that is the grade level that the students I'm talking, and so if I'm in an elementary school, am I doing second grade problems? I'm actually going to suggest that you might be surprised at my answer here, that there's a sweet spot that you're really going to do about fourth grade math. Like you're going to do some topics that a fourth grade student can do. Now a fourth grade student is learning that I would do a Problem String that would really engage that fourth grade student. Now often the Problem String will go a little further than fourth grade, but not all the time. So for example, I might do a Give and Take addition string. A Problem String that helps students develop or helps parents in this case, develop the idea that we can compensate just a little bit. I can take one from one of the addends, and give it to the other addend and make a really nice friendly number plus what's leftover that I can do that with. Usually I start with 99 Plus, like 47 and then build up to triple digits, quadruple digits, a four digit numbers, and then a decimal addition problem and then a fraction addition problem. So that we kind of range the gamut with lots of different kinds of numbers. And parents are like, "Whoa, like I'm doing this thing." And maybe it's parents who are like, "Well yeah, that's how I've always thought about it. Oh, you're gonna actually teach my kid that." Or it might be parents like me, that's apparently Kim, might be parents like me, who are like, "Whoa, you can think about numbers that way? Cool, I want my student to be able to do that." Either way, we're kind of giving parents, no matter what their perspective of math is, we're giving them an experience of what that's going to look like for their students. If you'd like to know, the Problem Strings that we typically do with teachers, the first time that we meet with them, and parents, the first time that we meet with them, you might be surprised that they are often the same, may, we invite you to take the free Developing Mathematical Reasoning workshop that we have out. In fact, I think, sorry, I said it a little bit wrong. The Development of Mathematical Reasoning, I think, no shoot, the Development or Mathematical Reasoning is the graphic that we use to talk about developing. The workshop is called Developing Mathematical Reasoning. It's totally free, out there. You can register any time to take it. And in that workshop, we start kind of like we're suggesting with these parent math nights. Have a conversation about your philosophy, what you made about math. Well, that's module one. And then dive in and do a Problem String. That's module two, and it's all about Additive Reasoning. Then you might dive in and do a Problem String with Multiplicative Reasoning. And you could see the Problem String that I would do in that workshop for either Additive Reasoning or Multiplicative Reasoning, or if you have time for both. So to find that sort of sweet spot, that would be a place where you could actually go get the Problem Strings that maybe you could start with, as you work with parents. Side note, if you go check out that workshop, you can see how I do it with adults. You can actually, you know, like, practice your facilitation by kind of watching the interaction with the adults in that Developing Mathematical Reasoning workshop. You can find that register for that workshop at mathisFigure-Out-Able.com/free workshop - mathisFigureOutAble.com/free workshop. Totally give you an idea of the kinds of math that we would suggest that you do maybe as a first shot with parents. Kim.
Kim Montague 12:01
Pam Harris 12:02
Parents might be surprised that we're suggesting that you're not actually going to do the math at that student's grade level. Like if it's kindergarteners, we're not going to do math with parents, for single digits, or if it's high school, we're not going to be writing the equation of a line or finding the derivative or I don't know, proving a geometry theorem. Why is that? Like, why are we doing fourth grade sweet spot math? Why is that the sweet spot?
Kim Montague 12:27
Well, I think it's really interesting to note that we aren't really sure where all parents are on their landscape, right, like exactly where they are. But a lot of times, we find that that's a sweet spot, because parents have not experienced thinking and reasoning about math at beyond a couple of first, second, third grade, right? A lot of them, a lot of them can think about some things. We want to give them that experience. And sometimes it's too easy, right? Like the math has to be just enough that they have to like wrestle a little bit, but can't be like so complex for them that they like go, "Oh, I don't like, I topped out at whatever 10th grade it couldn't."
Pam Harris 13:07
Kim Montague 13:08
Like, that's the great spot for them to work with. And I'm really glad that you mentioned the DMR and strings that you would recommend. Because a lot of times we get really, like people say if he talked to me about the details. How did you make it work? So can we talk about logistics for just a moment?
Pam Harris 13:24
Yeah, absolutely. What does it actually look like? Like specific logistics? Yeah, a good idea.
Kim Montague 13:30
So when we talk about having math nights, parent math nights, we want to consider a couple of things. And one of the most important things is, first of all, how do we even get parents there? Right, like parents are busy. And even if they like love their kids, which we know they do, how can we get them there? And so there were a couple of things that we found that were, for me, kind of non negotiable. And one was that we really didn't want to have parents have to be with their kids while they're also doing the parent math night. And so we didn't want like kids on laps while parents are trying to like think about the math. It's just a distraction. And so for me, that was something that we wanted to figure out, like, how can they just be their learning. And so y'all, we invited the high school clubs and kids who needed like, National Honor Society or dance club or whatever.
Pam Harris 14:20
Kim Montague 14:21
They needed a community service. And we had high schoolers come and watch the siblings. And you know, the age ran the gamut of kids in the cafeteria or in the gym, so that parents could just be learning, right.
Pam Harris 14:38
You obviously have to work on supervision and the details, you know, how are you going to make that legal and safe? But yeah, we found that that was actually a fairly helpful way to get the community involved and give parents a chance to really focus. They're not trying to look smart in front of their kids or we also recognize that there are fine times for parents and students to do math together. And that that might be a math night that you're used to. And we're not saying don't do those. We are saying, we would recommend that you take the opportunity to have specific times where it's just parents having the opportunity to learn.
Kim Montague 15:13
And it might be nice for parents to have an opportunity to be a little vulnerable when they're not sitting right next to their kid. So the other kind of logistic thing is that we considered is this going to be a one night thing, which we've done, like a 60 minute, one night thing. But we've also had a series of evenings.
Pam Harris 15:35
Kim Montague 15:35
Like on a Monday night, three weeks in a row, hour and a half. And what was really cool about those, we could really dig deep. We could do a Problem String each of the nights. We could play some of the games that were fourth, fifth grade math games that we love. Parents could ask a lot more questions, and we could have deeper conversations about what they were seeing. We could talk about some grade band conversations.
Pam Harris 16:01
Yeah, we're not only playing the games where parents are learning, like you said, the fourth, fifth grade games, but then we could actually give them examples of okay, so you have a kindergartner, here's the game they might bring home. Here's how you could interact with them. Because now we have more time to have had the experience where parents are learning, but also then say this is how it translates to the grade level a grade band that your student is in. Yeah, those were so fun. Kim, those are some of the favorite things I ever did with you. Where we would get to that third night, and you know, let's be clear, not every parent was able to come to all three nights. They would dwindle a little bit. And we'd have, you know, fewer parents as we went. But boy, those parents that had the opportunity, and we recognize everybody has the opportunity. You always can't take away the time. But boy, the ones who could, I mean by the end of it, they were on fire. They were just like loving it. And so excited and sharing stories about the kinds of conversations that we're having with their kids. And it's so meaningful to be able to provide the opportunity to let parents really grow in ways that when they can.
Kim Montague 17:04
Well, and I remember that when we did the series of three parent nights, that when we did them that way, we had waitlists, rather than when we offered a one night thing, you know, it was like something that people wanted to get involved in. One other thing that I want to mention is that we found that it was really helpful to have extra teachers come and sit at tables with parents, not one teacher per table kind of situation. But we did have extra teachers there so that they can have small group conversations with parents as they were attempting to do some math for themselves.
Pam Harris 17:40
Yeah, and that was not only helpful, because now parents kind of had, you know, a resource there as we're doing the math tonight, where they could ask questions or they can interact with them. But to be clear, that was also helpful for teachers, because the teachers were then involved. It could be helpful for a couple reasons: One, if I'm a brand new teacher, I'm getting the exposure. I'm really you know, I'm hearing the things. I'm watching other more experienced teachers interact with parents, watching us interact with parents. But it was also helpful for everybody to kind of get the same message. Like everybody's on board. We're showing this solidarity. We're all heading back into classrooms with a shared experience that now we can build from and build on. I was very unifying kind of experience to involve more teachers as we went through a school wide effort.
Kim Montague 18:33
Pam Harris 18:34
Yeah, very cool. So one way to partner with parents is to have parent math nights that really inform parents and give them experience mathematizing. Alright, y'all, you want to learn more mathematics and refine your math teaching so that you and students are mathematizing more and more than join the Math is Figure-Out-Able movement and help us spread the word that Math is Figure-Out-Able.