My Message to Parents about The MYTH of “I’m Bad at Math”

I just read, The Myth of “I’m Bad at Math”: Basic ability in the subject isn’t the product of good genes, but third work. By Miles Kimball and Noah Smith (Oct. 28, 2013) and it brought me back to a newsletter I wrote to parents in the 1990’s.  I’ve updated that message to parents and you’ll find it below.

My Message to Parents about The MYTH of “I’m Bad at Math”My Message to Parents about the Myth of "I'm Bad at Math"

Math is a subject that all students CAN learn and it will enhance their opportunities and their self-esteem later in life. Think about it.  When people find out that a person can do math, there is some sense of instant respect.

The Power of Mathematics opens doors to new knowledge and understanding. Math is not hereditary – there is no math gene (at least I don’t know of any!). One of the worst things any parent can tell their child is that they were “bad in math”, inferring or saying that it is why they are having trouble. Do not make excuses for students. If you do, their expectations (and yours) cost some children their math education.   I don’t remember ever hearing anything negative from either of my parents about mathematics.  We were expected to learn whatever we were supposed to. Later in life, I remember my mom say she didn’t know where I got my ability to do math but she was always doing some hands-on activity with her kindergarten students and my dad was always busy with some sort of problem, diagram, calculation, or busy building something.

As parents, we need to instill confidence in students. That confidence gives students the power to be persistent, work through challenging problems, and know with hard work, any progress on a challenging problem is success.  Over 37 years of teaching math, I watched how confidence transformed learning.  I have letters from students telling me that because I believed in them, that they now believe they can do math and are willing to put more time into doing math.  The best sense of achievement and boost of confidence comes from working hard on a “problem”, being frustrating with it, and persevering unit you figure it out by yourself!  No one can give anyone that feeling.  They have to earn it themselves.  (Good thing to remember as a teacher or a parent!)

A quick thought about math “problems”…. Is a real problem ever solved quickly or without thinking deeply? Keep this in mind – Quick “problems” are usually practice and a time to explore the different twists that might happen, not what I would consider to be “problems”.  Just because a person isn’t able to solve a problem as fast as someone else, does not mean that they are not good at math. Some people need a little more time to understand it, make sense of it, and mentally store it for access later. (By the way, that’s me.  Once “I get it”, I can build on it, retrieve it, and recreate that knowledge. Memorizing is not my forte but when I get it I can explain it to others!!)

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” – Albert Einstein

Everyone needs math to understand the world around them and make sound decisions on the future using probability and statistics.

Encourage your child.

Expect nothing but the best! 

Believe that they can do math and tell them!

The tough part of math is the practice required to learn it well. But, let’s put it in perspective… Would a basketball coach put a player on the floor that didn’t show up to practice? Did Michael Jordan get good at basketball by watching other players play? Why should math be any different? Math takes practice – For most, 30-45 minutes per night is not expecting too much (a basketball practice is often a couple of hours per afternoon!). In the preparation for life, math should have a high priority, right? Every basketball player won’t be a “Michael Jordan” and every math student won’t become a professional mathematician, but everyone can develop a deeper understanding and a love or at least respect for both with practice.

Technology is changing the job market. No longer will there be jobs for students without mathematical reasoning skills. Students will not only have to do math but they will also have to communicate math and work together to solve problems. Jobs are being redefined. Employers are looking for a new kind of employee. Once students reach the job market, more and more of them will have to create their own job and market their own skills. Downsizing is beginning to make this a reality today. Many years ago I read a good book – The Monster Under the Bed by Stan Davis and Jim Botkin and it helped me to start to see the future with new eyes. Now there are more resources to read and think about.

Below are some additional sources (in no particular order) that I’ve found that might give you some good information as parents. I will continue to update this list to provide you with the best tools to be the best parent.  

What tip or thought do you have for parents? Please share your ideas with students and parents.  I welcome your comments and tips!!


About napmath

I recently retired from full-time teaching. I taught students in High School math classes from Basic Math through AP Calculus. I have been into integrating technology into my classes since 1981. I am Nationally Board Certified, am the proud recipient of a Presidential Award of Excellence in Math Teaching, text book author, Golden Apple Scholar, Certified SMART Board Trainer, Regional Technology Teacher of the Year, and give workshops across the country - geometry, Common Core, mathematics, Interactive Whiteboards, and technology. I am currently working as an adjunct faculty member at Illinois Wesleyan University and authoring books for SMART Boards and Promethean Boards with Vision Technology.
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One Response to My Message to Parents about The MYTH of “I’m Bad at Math”

  1. Susan Reeves says:

    I love to refer students (and parents) to Sometimes being able to hear a different explanation of a math concept can be very helpful. For parents who aren’t familiar with some of today’s instructional strategies it can also be helpful to see the teacher explain and demonstrate in detail.

    I have seen some great videos that teachers prepared using their document cameras to record steps or strategies used in problems solving. With parents of younger students these videos can be very helpful in demonstrating some of the alternative methods we use (pre-algorithm, when we are working on number sense and concepts) to break apart and combine numbers.

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