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.
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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.