Parents need to invest some time in understanding the math curriculum being taught to their children. A parent must not feel intimidated into not contacting the school district office to get more information. A parent should be able to contact such a person and have the curriculum benefits explained to them to their satisfaction. Their child’s future is at stake and no question should be too stupid to ask.
- Is long hand division and multiplication taught and practiced?
Discussion: Most parents assume that their child is being taught these basic because they were taught it. A parent should make a decision on whether it is okay to replace this skill with the use of a calculator. The manipulations of equations in the later years of math education depend upon how the skills of long hand multiplication and division division are used and applied. It may detrimental to a student to not possess this skill. Some parents may be unpleasantly surprised that their 5th grader does not have these skills.
- Is standard math, or a constructivist math, or some other hybrid being taught?
Discussion: It is important that the parent understand a few of the basic differences between the competing math educational methodologies. It is important parents get an unbiased presentation of the positives and negatives with each curriculum. Often this may impossible to acquire from their child’s own school district which may have invested much in the current curriculum and therefore would have much to lose should the chosen curriculum be put aside.
- Will the parent be able to help their child with their homework if their child needs help?
Discussion: At the heart of the matter is the fact that the child may be taught from a constructivist curriculum where as the parent was taught from a standard program. The question begs to be asked whether a curriculum that is so different as to disable a parent to participate in homework help is really teaching the right type of material that will enable their child to succeed.
Here is a very basic and related question: if something worked for the parent, and the parent has succeeded, is there a decade of research that shows that the curriculum being taught to their child will enable them to succeed as the parent has?
- As children have different math learning personalities, how does the curriculum being taught address different student needs?
Discussion: Some student are inherently procedural learners and thrive in that environment. While others need to have a conceptual framework from which to learn; in other words, they need to understand the big picture first, rather than detailed oriented procedures that have no experiential meaning. Both conceptual and procedural learning are necessary. A curriculum that is not balanced between the both will enable some students flourish while others flounder to their inherent math learning personalities. As a practical example, students need math procedures to be ingrained as a second nature in order to complete in a timely fashion iSATs, entrance exams, SATs, and the like where there is no time to recreate the wheel every time.
- How much and when is the use of calculators permitted?
Discussion: A parent must decide if their child getting a proper development of number sense. A concern of calculator overuse would be the degeneration of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills due to lack of rehearsal. A parent needs to decide, for instance, if having multiplication tables become second nature to their child is important to their child’s success. Calculators have beneficial uses in solving real life and complex applications that would be totally inefficient of time management to do by ‘pencil and paper’ or by ‘mental math’.
- What is the evidence that shows the chosen curriculum produces positive, consistent results among students?
Discussion: Here the parent should press for more than school district example, or one year’s state test scores. Examples of success should be backed by data showing before and after results with each of those categories being backed over several years experience. A new curriculum should show a consistent positive track record that spans at least a couple of years over that which it replaces, which should have at least a couple of years’ track record as well. If a curriculum does not have a proven track record over several years then a parent must decide if they are willing to allow their child’s future to be subject to experimentation in the present.
- Is there breakout into small groups and how are they managed to provide the optimum learning experience for each student in the group.
Discussion: A positive of small groups is that enhances participation and engagement in the math learning process that may not otherwise occur in a large group setting due to socially inhibiting factors. Also sometimes a student can learn a math concept to another level when attempting to explain material to another student. A negative of small groups can be there may a stronger academic student in the group that supplies all/most of the answers to a skill exercise in order to ‘get it done’ and a weaker student may be only to happy to copy down the answers without understanding them thereby minimizing the whole learning experience. It’s important for a parent to know how the small groups are managed to insure that their child is fully engaged in the learning experience of which the small group breakouts is intended to foster.
- What text book is being used and what are it’s strengths and weaknesses? How much of it will be covered?
Discussion: The text book (or series of booklets) used is for the most part simply dictated by the curriculum chosen, though some teachers may supplement the text with additional hand-out material, perhaps from other texts. Here an involved parent should request a copy of the book (or booklets) to be used in the classroom of their child and take a scan through it. The parent should be comfortable with what is being taught, and if he/she is not, enough questions should be asked to resolve what it is that makes them uncomfortable with it. A parent may wish to have their child’s textbook to contain concrete examples with math procedures explicitly highlighted as well as interesting application exercises that bring the concept home. A school district may elect to not cover all the booklets in one year, or may mix and match them amongst grade levels. It is important that a parent be comfortable that their child will be exposed to all the material that is expected of their grade level as at least mandated by their state. If, for instance, some material will not be covered in their child’s current grade level, it is important for a parent to know when any such gaps will be filled in during their educational experience.