Thursday, July 2, 2020

Helping Your K-8 Kid Learn Math

As many school districts plan atypical scenarios for the Fall, many parents are asking a couple important questions:
  1. If I want to homeschool, what curriculum should I use?
  2. If my kid is still "in" school, but doing a ton of work independently, how can I help them?

Choosing a Math Curriculum

Actually, I wish more people would ask what curriculum they should use. Many intelligent people imagine that they can just do it themselves or buy a book off amazon and get it done. It's not that simple. Curriculum matters, but where should you turn?

In 2012, New York state commissioned the creation of a really great set of curricula for K-8 Math and English Language Arts (ELA). The result of that effort is EngageNY, which is generally considered some of the best open education resources (OER) out there. When that contract wound down, part of the team that created EngageNY decided that they were not done, so they created UnboundEd.

UnboundEd has updated and extended the EngageNY product to create solid content with good focus, rigor, and coherence. Oh, and it's free. They are also really great people who care deeply about equity and confronting our implicit biases. For proof, check out their Bias Toolkit

For another perspective for grades 6-8, check out Open Up Resources. Open Up is newer, and perhaps less robust, but they have some good stuff.

There are other options. EdReports.org has reviews of many curricula, so you can certainly poke around there. That said, you could do a whole lot worse than leaning heavily on UnboundEd and sprinkling in a few things from Open Up (grades 6-8) and/or the supplemental resources listed below.

Getting Math Help

What if you or your student gets stuck on some math topic? Note that this is a really different need (and set of solutions) from the curriculum focus above.
  1. If you haven't checked Khan Academy, you haven't done a serious search. I would not use this as a curriculum, but the videos can help a learner get over a bump in the road, or can help a parent brush up on something they learned and forgot years ago.
  2. BrainPop is another good source of videos. There are a ton of others, and you can find many at OER Commons.
  3. Friends and family could help. Who do you know that is good at math? They are likely sitting at home, and would be happy to help and interact with someone new. Lean on your network!

Having the Right Mindset

Stop telling kids that they are bad or good at math. Carol Dweck and others have done and published a ton of research on this, but the core idea is that with VERY few exceptions, most people can become good/better at math if they put in the right effort. Instilling a static mindset by telling a kid s/he is good at math or bad at math takes away their agency. They need to know that effort is valuable and it can lead to getting better.

This isn't about participation trophies and orange slices. This is about rejecting the dysfunctional and wrong idea that our genetics have predetermined what we can be. This is about helping every student know that progress is important and within their control. Lifting weights doesn't inherently make you strong, but with the right program, effort, and persistence, a lifting program can help you build muscle. It's the same way with mental effort helping our math ability grow.

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