When you hear MATH what words come to mind? Hard? Scary? Impossible? Now stop and think about it, do you use those words in front of your kids? Look, I’m not here to make you feel bad. This is not one of those Mom guilt posts, this is actually about a parenting revelation I had when I was at Blogher this past weekend.

I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast hosted by Texas Instruments’ Calculators. Now, I will tell you what I know about scientific calculators…they are on the back to school supply list for my eldest children. Period. Yup that’s all I’ve got. Well, that’s all I had. At the breakfast Texas Instruments brought in two highly experienced teachers to walk us through a cursory use of the new TI-Nspire calculator. At first I was intimidated. We all were. You could hear uncomfortable snickers, embarrassed laughter. Most of us in the room had no idea where to start. But Jeff and Tom held our hands and pushed us into unchartered territory. But we were charting. Graphing actually. We participated in classroom style questions and saw the results of our collected answers on the smart board in the front of the classroom… I mean suite. All of the information was accumulated wirelessly. It was smooth, easy and AMAZING! We even used a wand to take temperature readings. It blew my mind, and all we did was scratch the surface of the calculators’ capabilities.

I couldn’t wait to get the calculator home to my kids; to empower them to reach greater depths of understanding in the math arena. This last school year math ruled my house. All three of my kids battled demons of insecurity about their math intelligence. They struggled each and every night with mounds of homework problems that all seemed to blend together. They looked to me for leadership, encouragement and guidance. Yes, guidance in ALGEBRA, from the woman who hasn’t done algebra since 1984! But I didn’t let them see me sweat. Well, maybe a little, but I didn’t let them see me give up. I emailed their teachers. I begged for homework explanations and rule breakdowns. I studied the math books. I read and reread the chapters. I was right there with my kids sifting through the maze of integers, decimals and graphs. Oh graphs, the bane of my existence! But I stayed in it, and I advocated for my kids. I made sure that their teachers were all in too. Because if I didn’t who would? My kids needed me to be right there with them on this journey, even if it was just as company, or even a cheering section. It made a huge difference for and to them.

So what was my revelation? That parents are the key to keeping kids interested and involved in math and science. Did you already know that? Well, it took me a few extra repetitions to master the math. (Yes, that was a pun.) And that’s okay. We all have our own learning style and pace. Sometimes it’s not that a kid or a parent doesn’t have an aptitude for math, it’s that they need a few extra repetitions to master the rules. That was what I fought for on behalf of one of my kids last year. I fought to get them tutoring so they could consistently have a few extra laps around the proverbial math learning track. But what I realize now is that the tutoring would never have worked if I hadn’t coupled it with consistent laps around the positive reinforcement track at home. My involvement in their studies, my laser point attention to their homework pursuits, made the difference. Well, it did for two out of three of my kids at least.

I have to admit that I put more energy into my eldest children and their multi-tiered algebra than I did in the fundamentals with my youngest. I took what I identified as the “easy’ math for granted, and therefore, I didn’t take my daughter on the extra laps around the positive reinforcement track that she clearly needed. Add that to a less than supportive teaching environment and what you get is a child who doesn’t believe in her own math IQ. (Talk about a negative sum!) Worse yet, my youngest is the one with the greatest passion for science. (All of the combined product bottles…”potions”… in my bathroom are testimony to that!) She is fascinated by chemistry, the stars, rocks, man-made mermaid tails and more. But I worry that her hunger for scientific knowledge will fade if she isn’t able to ignite her confidence in math. Without a belief in her own math ability I am afraid all of those products in my bathroom will just be globs of lotion and never become the transformative concoctions that my daughter believes they could be. For without math, science is just an experiment without data, and dreams are just images in your sleep.

The TI-Nspire calculator reignited my energy and now I intend to transfer that positivity to my youngest. As such I have some homework to do. I have flashcards to drill, and math games to play, potions to measure, and most of all I have major cheerleading to do for my own little math team. This year I will be sure to run laps around the positivity track with all three of my kids no matter their place on their math journey. Because I realize that the first and last teacher of record in my children’s lives is me. And by facing math as an opportunity instead of a challenge, (or not so much of one), at every stage I will “Nspire” my kids, giving them the confidence to multiply their dreams.

ML

*This is a * Level 1 post: Some or all of the products or services mentioned were provided to Miss Lori free of charge.*

Miss Lori can be found Musing from her Minivan at MissLori.TV , Wearetherealdeal.com , YoungChicagonista ,ChicagoMomsBlog , and ChicagoMoms.com. You can also see her Activating to Be Great at Miss Lori’s CAMPUS on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter , TOUT and LinkedIn.

Now that is an elegant calculator. I wish I could have sat in on that session. I would have loved the refresher course. I’ve always loved math, but was very insecure of my abilities. And math in my head has always been a particular challenge. However, after having children I’ve been acutely aware of the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages sent to girls that they shouldn’t like math and science. We took the other tact, and told my daughter constantly that she’s got it in the genes, so it will be no problem. And it hasn’t.

For your youngest, science is loaded with math. It may be a lot more interesting for her to get the math building blocks wrapped up in an interesting science lesson. I’m trying to think of a cool homeschooling unit that I came across last year. I’ll let you know when I remember. Also, the “Life of Fred” series is great for bringing math home to practical life uses. It’s also silly so some kids like that. They are short lessons that don’t beat the kids with unnecessary repitition. It starts at Pre-Algebra, though. It’s become so popular for school and unschool families alike, that I heard the author will be added more to the series.

Loved seeing you at BlogHer, if only for brief hugs.

Oh Laila, we have all been there. I am pretty sure some negative things were said about math by me with my first born. It’s never to late to change your mindset though. I really believe that. It’s just as important for our kids to see us learn more and do better as it is for them to see us be right from the start. Keep the faith.

SMILE!

ML

Blaine, what an excellent perspective. Thank you for sharing. It’s helpful to hear your story. Amazing how fine a line it is between having an appreciation for math and having an aversion. We have to keep that in mind as parents and students.

SMILE!

ML

Terri you have a great attitude about math. So healthy and inspiring for you son. Congrats! Keep up the good work.

SMILE!

ML

I’ll admit that I’m one of those “I don’t like math” folks, but I am determined to make sure my son doesn’t follow in my footsteps. It’s interesting that both my mother and sister were biology and chemistry majors in college. I wasn’t interested. My son begins Kindergarten in a couple of weeks so I’ll definitely be looking for more opportunities to engage him in math. Thanks for sharing, Lori!

Also, I have a huge crush on Texas Insturments. They make some of the coolest stuff. I use their products for my projects all the time, and their TI-89 platinum is the most beautiful and beastly calculator out there that doesn’t run on an actual PC.

I’m an electrical engineering major at Texas Tech University. This is spot-on, too. Engineering is one of the least-pursued fields of study, and when I ask my friends why they wouldn’t go that route I always hear something along the lines of, “I’m just not as good as math as you.” Well I should hope that’s the case! If I’m taking Differential Equations 2 (calculus 5) in the fall, I’m sure I’ll need to be better at math than the liberal arts major who’s never seen anything past algebra. But it’s interesting that these comments come from students who did just as well as me in math during high school, and if they were more honest, they’d say something like, “I find math to be boring and intimidating, and I don’t understand how any of it makes a difference in real life.”

The difference between them and I is that when I got discouraged by math in grade school, my parents said, “You’re smart! You can do it! Let’s figure this out,” and thei parents said, “C’mon, you just gotta make it through a few more classes and you’ll never have to look at it again.” being an engineering major has opened my eyes to how important math is, even in it’s more advanced, abstract forms. If I ever have kids, I’ll be their #1 advocate and helper when it comes to their math/science studies because I don’t want them to miss out on potntial careers and fields of study just because they they’re intimidated by the word “calculus”.

My son’s not quite ready for that level of calculator (whew) but I completely agree that the attitude comes from parents and other family. I had a horrible experience in high school with math. They tested us in 8th grade and placed us in high school according to those tests. Apparently no actual human ever viewed the results, and as punishment for scoring so high on the test, I was placed in Geometry when I had never had Algebra. This ended up with me going 2/3 of the year with no math and I was so upset that he next year I took Intro Algebra and didn’t see Geometry again until I was a Senior. So math pretty much freaks me out because it was a real big deal when it shouldn’t have been.

Fast Forward 15-20 years and my son learns math at home to supplement what he learns in school. From the beginning, I tell him “Math is a game” and show him the easy stuff, the way math really is a game, like a puzzle and use a pizza cutter to cut peanut butter sandwiches into fractions, etc. I was so afraid my bad math experience would somehow mess him up that I went overboard the other way and taught him how to multiply and divide the summer between second and third grade, so he went into third grade knowing what they expected him to know at the end of the school year.

He spent most of forth grade complaining that his homework was too easy. So even when he gets to math I don’t understand, he will approach it with the attitude that it’s a game, a puzzle he just needs to figure out.