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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Getting Families Involved in Math Education Part 1

Recently I have had a lot of questions from other teachers about how I involve parents in their students math education, how I address the way things are taught now versus how they were taught when parents were in school and how I get parental involvement in classrooms.

I will be writing a series of posts that answer these questions and more.  I am hoping to give you the big picture of how I have changed the school and community climate around math over the past 9 years.  I will share some of my favorite resources with you that helped me get started and describe how things work in my school now.  Please remember that it has taken me a long time to get parents this far and if your school has a long way to go it is fine to start small.

Here is a book that I read when I first started teaching math all day

Over a series of blog posts, I will be sharing ideas from some of these chapters and telling you how I took what was in this book and applied it to my own school situation.  If you are looking to make a change with how math is addressed with the parents in your school community, this is the book I would start with.  It is fairly comprehensive, the ideas are easy to apply and there are tons of examples.  

Today we are going to look at Chapter 1: Newsletters

Nancy Litton, the author of this book identifies three reasons you might want to send a newsletter.

1. Explain what you are doing in math class.  This tells what is happening, what is being studied, what games or activities are being used and what homework will look like.

2. Explain why you are doing it.  This goes into more detail about the pedagogy behind the math.  It explains why kids are learning math different from the way their parents did.  If you teach multi-digit addition for example it might go into detail on other strategies their kids might be using and why they have not learned the traditional algorithm.    

3. Describe how math activities happen in your classroom. This recreates for parents some of the  activities and discussions had during math class and highlights the type of thinking you expect your 
learners to engage in.

This chapter also has many examples that illustrate these points as well as several more examples in the chapter appendix.  

Clip art by Illumismart

How we use newsletters to get families involved in my school community
- School wide newsletter: We have a weekly school-wide newsletter that goes out via paper copies and email attachments to all families in the school community.  This is the ideal place to feature small pieces about using math at home or in the real world.  When things are running smoothly, it is great if this can be a weekly feature.  This is a great place to keep math in family life featured.  In the past we have done ideas about how to practice math while cooking, shopping, vacationing, etc.  We try to pick topics that have a broad enough appeal or ideas that can be applied to younger and older students.  

- Grade level unit letters.  Our math curriculum includes pre-written newsletters to families that are intended to be sent out before each unit at each grade level.  With grade levels having between 7 and 9 units, these are something that go out just about monthly.  Many math programs have these now and if you can not find them in your curriculum materials, you may want to check the publisher's website as these may have been added or revised as more people purchased the program.  In the past, I have had teachers use parts and pieces of these letters along with their own words but as we have continued to use the program and they have made revisions, the pre-published notes to families have gotten quite good.  They explain both the what and the why of what kids are learning and even offer glances into the daily classroom routines which are all things highlighted by the Litton book.  These have made the newsletter part of getting families involved very easy for classroom teachers.  

Some other books you might be interested in looking at as you think about getting families involved in math education:

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


  1. I agree. Educating parents about how their child is approaching math these days is big, especially since the only way the parents know how to help their child is the way they learned math in school.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  2. Thanks so much for taking the time to post about this-it is super important! We do newsletters but they have never been very math focused...that is a FABULOUS idea! You are right it is just so important. Thanks for sharing! I am looking forward to your next post about Open House!!

    Learning to the Core

    1. When I think back to how little parents were involved in their kid's math education 7-8 years ago I am shocked. We have done lots of little things over the years and they have really paid off.