Math Homework Help – What is the best way to help your child?

Actually, it all starts with YOUR own mindset.  Can anyone relate to “I’m not good at math” or “I won’t be able to help you with THAT subject”?  As those of you who have heard me speak know, our belief about our own intelligence has everything to do with how we approach or avoid, a challenge.  Whether consciously or not, our children are always watching us and learning from how we approach our opportunities and challenges. If you are not familiar with Carol Dweck’s influential work on how our MINDSET impacts our actions and success, please view my video: Skills for Success.

During one of my recent professional trainings in Massachusetts, Gretchen Amonte, a middle school math teacher, shared a resource that is a tremendous aid in helping solve math problems.  The Photomath App can read and solve problems ranging from arithmetic to calculus instantly by using the camera on your mobile device.  I found it quite amazing! It provides animated steps and detailed instructions to help solve math problems.  She shared that she recommends it to parents as a way to help them work with their children. This tool is not intended to substitute working with a Tutor or an ADHD/EF Coach, but it’s a great, instant way, to help your child get unstuck during math homework. I asked Gretchen to share how she introduces the app to parents and how she addresses concerns about students using the app themselves.

Cindy: Thanks for taking a few minutes to follow up with me after the training.  I am always interested in ways to help parents appropriately assist their children during math homework time. Can you tell me what ages and what type of math you find the app useful for?

Gretchen:  Personally, I have recommended the Photomath App to the parents of my seventh grade Math 7 and Pre-Algebra students.  However, I also know of parents of older elementary age children who have used it.  These parents are using it for their own learning so they can help their children during homework time.  I’ve also spoken to high school students who have used it to support their own learning.

Me:  How do you introduce the app to the parents?  

Gretchen:  During my Open House presentation to the parents, I share information about the app.  I’m able to have a more candid conversation with the parents because children are not invited to these evenings.  I tell the parents something along the lines of, “As an adult, it is socially acceptable to say ‘I’m not good at math’ and everyone around you nods along with an empathetic shoulder shrug.  However, you would never turn to your adult friends and say “I can’t read.” Your friends would give you a strange look and would likely have judgmental thoughts.  Please do not convey to your children that they shouldn’t try to be good math students.  Please try to model for them that even if there is temporary confusion or a lack of confidence, that we can use tools to overcome this.  Do your best to help them with their math homework by asking guiding questions, asking them to look back at their notes, and using the provided answer keys (all of my students have the answers to all of their homework questions each night, and they just need to show me the work to get there). Use the PhotoMath app to help you, as the parent, understand the math problem before helping your child with it.”

After this, I show the parents a quick video demonstrating how the app works.  They can see that the phone camera can scan typed or handwritten math problems with a full range of numbers, variables, and operational symbols. The app then gives a step by step solution for the problem.  At this point, the parents are usually amazed and are pulling out their own phones to download the app.

Me:  Do you have concerns about the students using the app instead of doing the work themselves?

Gretchen:  I am not naive enough to think that my students don’t know about this app and I recognize that they have probably used it.  However, I do have faith that the vast majority of the time my students are providing me with their own work.  I believe that most students want to learn and are going to persevere in this effort by showing their own thoughts and computations. They also have a mature understanding that if they cheat themselves out of doing their homework, then there will be later consequences.  Of course, there are quizzes and tests that they want to be successful with.  But they also understand that math is a cumulative subject, so not putting forth their best effort on one topic will have a domino effect on future topics.

Me:  These days with so much access to “easy solutions” via the internet, what are some other ways parents can help their students see the value in knowing some of the math concepts they are taught?

Gretchen:  Luckily it doesn’t happen too often, but I do hear, “Why do we have to know this?” or “When am I going to actually use this?”  As seventh graders, my students are transitioning from a general elementary math curriculum to Pre-Algebra.  The students typically understand that there is future value in the math curriculum that they’ve learned through sixth grade.  It is these new complex Pre-Algebra concepts that usually prompt the questioning.  I ask them to think back to when they were little kids.  Did they enjoy playing with Legos, putting together puzzles, creating cardboard houses, stringing necklaces using patterns, etc.? I tell them that these are the early ways that they enjoyed math and problem-solving.  Now that they are older, they are learning new ways to solve more complex math concepts.  Just as they had a puzzle to solve when they were five years old, they now have a new puzzle to solve as a thirteen-year-old.  It was fun for them then, and it can be fun now.

It’s all a matter of having a positive mindset and accepting that there will be challenges, confusion, and perhaps a lack of confidence along the way.  We have all heard about the power of YET. Don’t think, “I can’t do this.”  Instead think to yourself that, “I can’t do this YET.”  Parents can help by telling their children that learning new math concepts can help them to develop the parts of their brain responsible for problem-solving further.  No, they will likely not ever use what I’ve taught them about systems of equations. But they were able to create new problem-solving skills.  Regardless of what profession they choose as an adult, problem-solving skills are critical.  And then there are the math skills that they learn in seventh grade that they never even think might be used in adulthood.  For example, my husband used to be responsible for painting the white lines on his rugby team’s field.  I asked him once how he made sure that all of the lines where perpendicular or parallel and how he made sure that all of the angles were ninety degrees.  He told me that he used the Pythagorean Theorem.  I’m sure that when he learned this in junior high, he never considered his adult rugby coaching career.  So, yes, with today’s technology we can easily have “an app for that,” look up a formula on the internet or use a calculator.  However, these tools are only as useful as the prior knowledge we possess.  You still need to know what the important numbers are, how to manipulate them, and have developed the problem-solving skills to reach a solution.