Here are five math mistakes that we are passing onto our kids:
1. Low expectations. Parents who were poor math students may think it’s hypocritical to expect their children to master what they learn in math class. By telling children about their math-challenged past, parents unwittingly pass on the message: “It’s okay to be bad in math because I was bad in math.” In non-mathematical subjects, it’s possible to do poorly during one school year and excel during the next school year. But math foundations are too important not to master. Students who struggle in one math class are very likely to continue to struggle in future years. Kids who hear the message that a “B” or a “C” is fine have been set up to fail in future years. Many children label themselves as “dumb in math.” Since the subconscious mind is incapable of disbelief, children whose parents allow them to negatively label themselves further facilitate their own failure.
2. Not knowing what’s in your kids’ textbooks. Maybe your child’s textbook is a watered down version of the one you had as a child. If you find yourself wondering why your son doesn’t know nearly as much as you did at his age, he might have a textbook that glosses over topics and jumps from topic to topic before mastery is possible. Showing students interesting real-life examples is conducive to learning. However, if too many topics are introduced at once, students are deprived of the practice they require in order to fully grasp the mechanics needed to master problem solving. Does your pre-teen daughter have a textbook with calculator exercises? Buy her a more rigorous math textbook to spare her a life of calculator dependence.
3. Not knowing what homework your kids are getting. As with textbook authors who may favor fun and intrigue over mastery, some teachers think that exposure as opposed to mastery is acceptable. To avoid putting “too much pressure” on their students, teachers sometimes assign only a handful of math problems for homework. Even students with a high level of math aptitude will fail to master certain math topics without a lot of practice. Math anxiety during tests is in large part due to lack of mastery. Students who haven’t worked through enough problems to allow them to see all the twists and tricks may be blindsided by tricky questions on test day. Practice leads to mastery which in turn leads to confidence. Confidence reduces or eliminates math anxiety. Your son’s 3rd grade math teacher may think she’s being nice when she says: “It’s okay, he can learn his times tables in his own time.” However, by setting a standard below actual mastery, she’s actually setting him up for failure in higher level math classes.
4. Thinking that “memorization” is a four-letter word. Stating or implying to your children that “you’re never going to use this math in real life” is tantamount to giving them carte blanche to be lackadaisical in math class. Teachers and parents sometimes may think that memorizing times tables is a waste of time since “everyone has a calculator anyway.” But students who lack unconscious competence in basic math facts are likely to become anxious and struggle in algebra and calculus. Mastering basic facts and having excellent number sense aid in observing shortcuts in SAT questions. While it’s true that your son might not enter a field that utilizes calculus, the ability to memorize formulas and key concepts will make him a better problem solver in general. Excellent math students have superior skills of observation which are invaluable in all fields. Memorization skills are not only important for professional exams. Having an excellent memory aids in remembering the names of important prospective clients. A sales rep builds natural rapport with prospective clients by remembering and regularly using their names. People do business with those they know and like, so a well-trained memory can pay dividends.
5. Accepting facts and figures at face value. Instead, teach your kids to listen carefully to (and analyze) what they hear. Even finance “experts” on television make mistakes in their mathematical terminology. One common mistake is to use “percent” and “percentage point” interchangeably. Another mistake is referring to an “inflection point” in the stock market as if it’s the same as a “turning point”—financial gurus who make this mistake demonstrate their need to retake basic calculus. Errors in advertisements are also very common. See if you can spot the SAT trap in the following example. A financial ad states: “Stock X increased in value from $100 to $1000, a 1000% increase.” Actually, the increase was only 900%. Instead of having a scan-and-sign mentality, children who are taught to carefully read financial documents can save a lot of money. If a real estate agent states that the monthly payment for a 15-yr mortgage is double that of a 30-yr mortgage would you believe her? Due to lacking a solid understanding of compound interest, she may think she’s telling you the truth. However, a 15-yr payment is only about 50% greater than a 30-yr payment. For a $1,000,000 mortgage at a 4% interest rate, the 15-yr option saves over $387,000 in interest charges over the course of the loan vs. the 30-yr. option.
By avoiding the mistakes above, parents can help their children succeed in their math classes and on standardized tests. Mastery in the classroom leads to greater confidence in school and in life.
This post is from Mark Kronenberg, the founder of Math 1-2-3, Inc., specialists in private home math tutoring and test prep. He holds a dual degree in Mathematics and Economics from Vanderbilt University and is a former high school math teacher and actuary. Due to his strong mathematical background, Mr. Kronenberg implements a rigorous mathematical screening process in personally hiring each of his tutors in the NYC and Boston areas. For more info, visit www.math123.com or call 1-888-MATH-123.