Fun times link kids and 21st-century math skills

12:26 pm November 14th, 2013

By Krestin Bahr
November is the time for families and thoughts of home. Homecoming and giving of thanks surround these days when the trees lose their leaves and their bare branches reveal elegant, symmetrical skeletons that reach to the sky and defy the harsh winds and weather.
This month in schools is especially significant as we begin to really understand your child and know where they are in respect to the learning standards they need to be able to master this school year. Last month we focused on reading for all students. The elementary schools had book fairs with fantastic books at reasonable prices.
November is the time to consider mathematics. There is a documented, growing disparity between the skill sets of our high school graduates and the skill sets required by employers. This is a cause for significant concern, especially in Washington, where science, technology, engineering and mathematics positions remain unfilled by Washington graduates and result in outsourced work from other countries graduates. I’ve listened to advanced manufacturing employers consistently express concerns about their inability to hire Washington high school graduates with the requisite math skills into positions that provide a livable wage with benefits.
The Common Core state standards came about because of concern from educators and employers that we must address the need for our high school graduates to possess the skill sets necessary for success in college and careers. As a result, the new standards specify more rigorous knowledge and skills that students now need in reading, writing, speaking and listening (the English Language Arts Standards), and for solving problems in math (the Mathematics Standards). Students will now be expected to use the mathematical practices listed below:
1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
4. Model with mathematics.
5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
6. Attend to precision.
7. Look for and make use of structure.
8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning
Really, these practices are habits of mind – in other words, how we think and reason to solve problems. We want our students to be able to think critically about any problem, math or otherwise, and be able to work through the entire problem with the grit and perseverance that is needed for attainment.
We know that in Eatonville your child has been involved in the Math Education Project (MEP) taught with support of the University of Washington. The basis of MEP is to incorporate the mathematical habits of mind and interaction that are required in the Common Core state standards.
How is this different than how you and I learned math? If you are like me, I learned math through trigonometry as a list of algorithms and proofs. I only knew I learned the formula, and did the odd or even numbers in the back of the book for homework. We would come in the next day, review and correct and go to the next concept. Many times, I would try to come up with another way to do the problem, probably because I was trying to get it done faster, and would be frustrated by not being able to make the numbers come out correctly.
I never had to use the formula in real life, nor was it an expectation that we understood the reality behind the number. Many people who grew up using formulas such as area and perimeter in families that had careers such as construction and logging understand that there is a real use for having correct numbers. In jobs such as nursing, medicine and aircraft production, the wrong calculations can result in the loss of lives and property.
This month, please use some of your family time to help the children in your family begin to have a love of numbers and their meanings. Nature is filled with symmetry and numbers. Doubling, counting and patterns are easy entry points for kids. Count as many things as you can, put them in piles and look at what happens when you combine the piles. Dig holes and measure as many things as you can. Use rulers, measuring tapes, yarn, rope, whatever you have available and get outside in the weather to measure stuff. If you have a family function, play games that involve words and math.
Challenge your own math anxiety and learn something new with your high-schooler, like slope or the Pythagorean Theorem. Graph the heights of all of the family members when they come to turkey dinner; compare eye color, hair, etc.Take pictures of family members holding up numbers for little ones to make a book of numbers, multiplication and division cards, etc. Have fun and be creative.
The more your children see you seek to understand, even if it is at the store counting out cans or comparing vegetable prices, the easier they will meet the standards in math.
Homecoming. Home is the place that we all long for, and traditions are those customs that we bring into our holidays to make meaning to these times. Let us know how you use math during those times and we will post them on our web site. Math is fun when it is linked to the real world, and it is essential that our children know these vital 21st-century skills.
Enjoy this homecoming and time of thanks. Thank you for your support of Eatonville schools, and know that we are doing all that we can to support your child in their mathematical development and skill set.
Gobble gobble times two!

Krestin Bahr is superintendent of the Eatonville School District.

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