Thursday, February 6, 2014

Getting Families Involved in Math Education Part 6

Clip art by Whimsy Clips
If you are new to this series, we are taking a look at this book:

Today we are going to look at getting families involved through family math nights.

Here is what the book says about family math night
- I love this quote from the beginning of the chapter: "Holding a family math night does more than just pass along knowledge about math content.  It helps create a mathematical community that includes parents, children and educators; it offers the potential for everyone involved to learn that doing math can be fun"
- The book shares ideas about having a family math night aimed at one or two grades.  It includes several parts
   - Openers: These are simple math activities for families to do while waiting for everyone to arrive
   - Bring the group together for introductions and to introduce and activity.
   - Families complete activity and the group comes back together to discuss.  
   - Repeat introducing, doing and debriefing with a different activity.
   - Send home materials and instructions to play the games or complete the activities again at home.
- They also highly recommend these two books which have activities all set to go.  Using these books and the ideas presented in this chapter, you could have a successful math night with very little planning time on your part.

This book is packed with activities you could use during a family math night
This is a great book full of activities to do at a family math night with preK-grade 1 students

Family math night in my school
    So family math night in my school is a BIG DEAL.  We started 9 or so years ago and have invested a lot of time and energy into making it a huge success.  The good news is that family math night really pays off for us.  We have been doing it for a long time and we do it school wide.  Our attendance is always outstanding.  Last year we had 85% of students and families attend math night.  Because it is school wide, we structure things differently.  Our activities and themes have changed a bit over the years but here are the basic things that are always included in our night

1) Candy estimation jars.  This is a student favorite every year.  We fill 8-10 small plastic jars with different types of candy, number the jars and set them up alongside estimation slips.  Kids write their name and estimation for each jar.  About 10 minutes before the end of math night, we frantically pull out all the estimates and find who was closest.  Of course we count the jars ahead of time so we are prepared.  We also are sure to sample all the candy to assure its freshness while counting it.  The person who guessed the closest to the actual number gets to take the jar of candy home that night

2) Math centers: The K-5 classrooms in my school all do math centers or stations as part of their regular math program.  Before math night, we have each grade vote on 2 of their favorite stations that they are currently using or have just used.  We set up half of the gym with cafeteria tables and each grade has two stations out.  This way the kids can bring their parents over and show them two of the games they have been doing in math class.  We leave paper copies of the directions out for parents but kids really do know how to do these stations already.  Also, kids like to revisit a favorite from the previous year or try out a station from the grade ahead of them.

Our sixth graders do less with math stations but I make sure they have a game that they have recently played in class that is out that night.  This year, my sixth grade students will also have a QR code scavenger hunt to complete with their parents.  

I am also considering offering an easier QR code scavenger hunt at family math night because this has been a lot of fun for kids this year.  

3) Math manipulative table.  Down by the math stations table, we reserve one table for some of our fun math manipulatives.  Many parents are familiar with pattern blocks and things of that nature but we love to put out our polydrons which many parents have never seen or used and last year we added a set of polydron sphera  to the table.  It is amazing to see parents and kids engaged in geometric explorations together and the language development that happens as a result of this is always amazing.  

Other manipulatives we have put out on this table include math linksgeoblocksfraction towerswrap ups, and base 10 pieces.  Of course we don't do all of these every year but it makes me thing that you could do an entire math night around math manipulatives.  

4) We have math night in the winter time.  We have always done this and I think it helps with our attendance but I can not be sure because I have nothing to compare it to.  Families seem to be less busy in the winter time in my area and are looking for ways to get out of the house when weather is bad.  Of course, planning it for winter means that we always pick a snow date and advertise that along with other details.  Having a snow date has saved us more than once!

5) The half of the gym not being used for math stations is used for other math activities around the theme.  For example, when our theme was candy math we had stations and activities around Hershey bar fractions, rolling skittles, measuring with Twizzlers and weighing candy tins.  I make up quick directions and/or a worksheet that goes along with the station and try to make it appropriate for as many grades as possible.   The candy tin weighing for example was good for grades K-6 while the Hershey bar fraction activity was best for grades 3-6 and the rolling skittles was best for K-3.  I put the grade range it is best suited for on the program and post it at the table.  Occasionally, I will have a family or kid who really wants to try something that is not best suited for their grade level and it usually works out fine.  When kids have a parent sitting one on one with them it is amazing some of the concepts they can grasp.  

6) I make a program that says thanks for coming and lists the choices for activities for the night.  This let's parents know what is available and helps them in planning their evening. 

7) We schedule one hour and wrap it up at the end by giving away the estimation jars and thanking everyone for coming.  This is the only time we pull the whole group together. 

8) We have a sign in table right inside the gym.  As people arrive, we have them sign in and there is always someone there to greet them.  I like this because it makes them feel welcome, they get a chance to look at the program and have a chance to ask questions.  We also use the sign in for door prizes on years where we have had more budget or grant money and have been able to provide door prizes.

9)  I advertise well in advance by putting the date and snow date on the school calendar, in the school newsletter, making announcements at school wide meeting and taking time during the school day to talk with kids about what will be happening at family math night.  I also recruit some older students to help me make posters to hang around the school.   I also usually try to put a bulletin board together by the front entrance about 2 weeks before hand to advertise the dates, door prizes and other relevant information.  I also like to keep the bulletin board up for the week after and post a bunch of pictures of math night up.  

10)  The night of math night, I like to make it feel like fun so I do a bit of decorating with Christmas lights and balloons.  It only takes a few minutes and I focus most of my attention on the entrance of the gym.  It seems to add to the festivities.

Have you had a math night at your school?  What tips and tricks can you share with others?  Please respond in the comments below.

Want to check out all 6 parts, here they are!
Part 1: Newsletters 
Part 2: Open House
Part 4: Homework


  1. Food is the best way to encourage families to attend.

    1. Food works wonders! Our first year we had spotty attendance. The second year we did a fraction theme and offered pizza dinner before hand and that really helped us to get established!

  2. You mentioned that you have themes for each night. What themes have you done besides candy?

    1. We have done a fraction theme, math wonderland (like winter winter wonderland), and geometry.

  3. What door prizes have you given away? I'm looking for some fresh ideas for our upcoming math night.

    1. We have given away gift certificates to local restaurants, movie theaters, book stores and kid places like the mini-golf center or the indoor bounce palace. We have also given away math literature books, flash cards, school supplies and other small trinkets.

  4. What door prizes have you given away? I'm looking for some fresh ideas for our upcoming math night.

  5. Our theme this year is travel/vacations. Do you have any suggestions for activities? We invite K5 families.