February Message from Meera

Many of you have admitted to me that you’re “scared” of Singapore Math or that you found the methodology shared in last fall’s parent education session to be intuitive but are having a difficult time letting go of the way you were taught math. And some of you have said to me, “Oh, I don’t help with math homework. My spouse takes care of that for us!” And, while I know that these statements are delivered with humor, there is also some truth in them and an understandable sense of anxiety, especially as we move to a new math curriculum.
In all areas of parenting, we are models for our children—even when it comes to math learning. A recent NPR story, “How to Make Sure Your Math Anxiety Doesn’t Make Your Kids Hate Math,” piqued my interest. It reported that parents’ fears and worries about math can negatively affect their child’s ability to be successful in math. Over the years, a number of articles have been published that aim to help parents overcome their own negative childhood memories and continuing anxiety about math in order to boost their children’s math success. The study in this article, undertaken by Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist and president of Barnard College, and her research team, came to a different conclusion. You don’t have to overcome your fear of math in order to help your child succeed; you only need to change your attitude about math. Researchers gave parents with math anxiety bedtime stories to read with their children using a special math app. After reading, children answered questions about the stories that involved basic math skills like counting, addition and subtraction. Over time, by normalizing math in the home and making it a part of everyday life, these parents grew more confident about their children’s ability to succeed in math and modeled a positive attitude towards math for them. The parents did not have to start loving math, or even overcome their own anxieties, but they started showing, by example, that they valued math. Through this shift in attitude, researchers found that children who engaged in math on a regular basis with their parents who had math anxiety performed as well as children whose parents felt confident about their own math skills.
So what does this mean for math at Curtis? For those of you who love math, keep loving math! For all parents, and especially those whose relationship with math is more complicated, try to incorporate math into daily life. Project an appreciation for math by helping your kids find patterns, numbers, functions, shapes and graphs in books and articles that you read together. When waiting for your Starbucks order, encourage them to figure out how many combinations of frappuccinos the baristas can make using different sets of ingredients. When they’re bored waiting at the airport, ask your children to watch the arrivals and departures monitor and calculate how many minutes until the next flight arrives from Mumbai. For those of you who want to hide under the covers when your child walks up to you with their math homework, hide together under the covers and help your young scholar get started by asking questions like “Can you think of a problem that you do know how to do that is similar to this one?”
As we continue to move towards implementing our new math curriculum in the classrooms in 2019-2020, I encourage you to attend the educational sessions we are providing to our parents and guardians, so that you are better prepared to support your children as they transition to a new approach to math. The next education session for parents and guardians will take place on the morning of April 17. (Click HERE to sign up to attend.) We will continue to host math education sessions for parents and guardians in the coming school year, and we are planning a family math night when you and your child can engage in math together—exactly what Beilock’s study encourages us to do.
Happy math adventures and happy Valentine’s Day!
Dr. Meera Ratnesar
Head of School