Point of View

Here's how to help your kids and yourself think differently about math

High school teacher Glenn Normore offers a few tips for helping you and your students think differently about math.

Never be afraid to fail — even if it means ruining a french door

While hosting Here and Now, Jeremy Eaton said he wasn't good at math. The offhand comment prompted a big discussion. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"I'm not good at math."

It was an honest, offhand admission from CBC's Jeremy Eaton as he hosted Here and Now last week.

And though Eaton did wind up writing a math placement test in Memorial University's Math Help Centre — maybe not how he'd like to spend a Monday night — his remark started a great discussion.

Glenn Normore, a math and science teacher at Holy Trinity High School and past winner of a Prime Minister's award for excellence in teaching, wrote this response to Jeremy, offering tips and tricks for parents (and students) hoping to encourage a different perspective about learning and, most importantly, failing at mathematics.

I cringe whenever I hear someone say they're not good at math or, worse, that they aren't a "math person."

In the last decade we've learned that our brains are capable of growing and developing throughout life, in ways we once thought impossible.

Studies have even shown that the way we think about intelligence influences the way we perform. People who had a so-called growth mindset and believed they could develop their intelligence were more successful at many tasks than those who think intelligence was a gift that you either have or don't.

Glenn Normore, a math and science teacher at Holy Trinity High in Torbay, says succeeding at mathematics is all about developing a growth mindset. (Submitted by Glenn Normore)

We have scientific evidence that any student, even Jeremy Eaton, can improve their math skills, no matter how bad they think they might be at it.

They just need a growth mindset.

I bet Jeremy Eaton has a highly-developed growth mindset. To be hosting CBC's Here and Now, he has surely taken risks, failed and tried again, and learned to incorporate failure and success into every new risk he takes.

That's growth mindset.

How can parents help their kids develop a growth mindset about math?

First, parents need to have a growth mindset of their own. That means they're not allowed to say they're bad at math or that they're not a math person.

It also means they have to be unafraid to fail, to get things wrong, to struggle and to do things differently when they crack open the math books with their kids.

Enter the matrix. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Many of my students go home and say, "But the teacher does it differently!" when parents try to help them with their homework.

To them, that makes their parents' methods wrong. But that's not right.

Learning a variety of ways to solve a problem is a necessary math skill. And sometimes, if students see and understand one method, that will lead them to understand many more.

Build numeracy together

Sure, maybe some people have a keener sense of numbers than others, but number sense can be developed.

And one of the best ways to develop it is to practice estimating.

How many jelly beans are in this bag? Estimating can help develop numeracy. (Steven Fletcher)

How many Cheerios can fit across a cereal bowl? Or around it? Simple questions like these are fun to play with and fun to get wrong.

For more ideas about simple estimation exercises you can casually slip into a meal or a trip to the store, check out a website like Estimation 180, run by Andrew Stadel, a respected U.S.-based secondary mathematics educator.

So, you get three squares of chocolate ...

And speaking of slipping mathematics into a meal, there's a book for that, too. Table Talk Math by John Stevens is a great book for parents, students or folks like Jeremy Eaton who are looking for understandable examples of mathematics in everyday life in order to build their numeracy, confidence and growth mindset.

It can be as simple as asking your child to think about whether their glass of water or milk at the dinner table is half-full or three-quarters full.

How full is that milk glass on the table? (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

Kids can definitely understand fractions: just ask them to evenly share a chocolate bar with their siblings or friends. They'll figure it out quick!

Keep failing

I had to cut the bottom off a french door so it would fit in my house. Doors are rectangular, so I measured the height and width and then trimmed it with my table saw. But when I went to hang it back in its hinges, it didn't fit. The floor was uneven! I hadn't even considered that as part of the problem.

Mathematicians, math teachers and math students don't get it right all the time. We're always failing and we're always getting stuck.

And though the movies would have you think otherwise, we're always reaching out to other people for help.

You can do it, Jeremy! (Gary Locke/CBC)

If you're stuck on a homework problem or on an idea, look for help. Google it, ask your teacher or head to MUN's Math Help Centre, just like Jeremy Eaton did.

We're all in this together!

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