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Engaging Families for Math Success

March 11, 2019

SRI International
   Megan Cox, REL Appalachia
   Kerry Friedman, REL Appalachia

group of legos on flat blue lego piece

How many ways are there to count these blocks? How can you group the blocks to count them faster? Asking children simple questions about the world around them can reinforce math skills and help them apply their math knowledge in new ways. Young children who have lots of opportunities to develop and apply their mathematical knowledge are more likely to achieve in school and in life. 1 Helping families understand the importance of math and of supporting their children's math learning outside the classroom is one way to set children up for success.

Supporting family math

Well-designed partnerships of families and community members can increase students' self-confidence and achievement, generally, and in mathematics specifically. 2, 3 Community engagement activities, such as math nights, create an opportunity for educators, children, and families to learn and talk about math and can help family members participate in their child's learning and support their academic success. 4

As natural teachers and role models for students, families can also encourage positive attitudes towards learning. Yet some family members may need support around their own math attitudes. Most of us have heard the phrase, “When will I ever use math?” or “I was never good at math.” Sometimes these attitudes toward math can affect children's math success. 5

Teachers and school staff can support parents in developing positive math attitudes by introducing growth mindset thinking and strategies for building math confidence and persistence. A growth mindset means that you believe that your intellectual abilities can be increased with effort and hard work. 6 This promotes engaging in productive struggle and trying new methods. Community engagement activities and school-family math supports can reinforce the importance of growth mindset and persistence in math to children and their families alike.

An early focus on math can enhance school and life outcomes

Early math achievement predicts later math achievement. For example, kindergarteners' skills in pattern recognition, measurement, and advanced number understanding predict their math achievement in grade 8. 7 Students' early math skills predict their achievement in reading and science as well as their likelihood of repeating a grade. 8 Math achievement also predicts long-term milestones such as on-time graduation 9 and career attainment. While poor math performance can limit opportunities, effective instructional interventions combined with strong family and community engagement can change the path for students. Educators can use this REL AP infographic to illustrate for families the importance of supporting their child's math development and to support family engagement.

Resources for family and community engagement

Below are additional resources that can support educators in building strong partnerships with families and communities and supporting families in developing a growth mindset. Each resource is free to use and is supported by research. 10

  • Growth mindset kit for parents. This toolkit helps parents learn what growth mindset is and why it is important for their child. Users can watch short videos on growth mindset and then complete reflections and activities to support their understanding of the content.
  • Making math a family thing. This blog post offers ideas and resources for families to develop children's mathematical learning and for educators to guide families in that process.
  • Building an understanding of family and community engagement. This toolkit provides resources for educators and administrators to build relationships with families and community members. It includes four parts designed to support school staff to use two-way communication with families to share data, progress, and outcomes.
  • Two Strategies to Help Your Child Learn to Love Math. This short video by REL Northwest will teach parents and guardians two practical, evidence-based strategies for helping kids learn and appreciate math.
To promote family engagement in math, REL AP is partnering with the Education Alliance to implement two community math nights in southeastern West Virginia in spring and fall 2019. The math nights will include fun and interactive activity stations with materials to support families in engaging in their child's math learning with real life situations. REL AP and school staff are designing each activity to foster families' math confidence and positive attitudes and to enable family engagement in math outside of school. After the math nights, REL AP will share the math night materials via the REL AP website.

Footnotes:

1 Frye, D., Baroody, A. J., Burchinal, M., Carver, S. M., Jordan, N. C., & McDowell, J. (2013). Teaching math to young children: A practice guide (NCEE 2014–4005). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from the NCEE website: http://whatworks.ed.gov.

2 Garcia, E., & Weiss, E. (2017). Education inequalities at the school starting gate: Gaps, trends, and strategies to address them. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

3 Epstein, J. L. (2018). School, family, and community partnerships (4th ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED586508 .

4 Garcia, E., & Weiss, E. (2017). Education inequalities at the school starting gate: Gaps, trends, and strategies to address them. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

5 Chang, H., & Beilock, S. L. (2016). The math anxiety-math performance link and its relation to individual and environmental factors: A review of current behavioral and psychophysiological research. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 10, 33–38. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2016.04.011.

6 Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

7 Claessens, A., & Engel, M. (2013). How important is where you start? Early mathematics knowledge and later school success. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1020177.

8 Ibid.

9 Balfanz, R., Herzog, L., & Mac Iver, D. (2007). Preventing student disengagement and keeping students on the graduation path in urban middle-grades schools: Early identification and effective interventions. Educational Psychologist, 42(4), 223–235.

10 The mention of these resources does not imply an endorsement by the Institute of Education Sciences or the U.S. Department of Education.