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Mathematics Tips for Parents

Boy by "My Cute Graphics"
Success in school starts and continues at home, but many parents feel inadequate when it comes to helping their children with math. While parents can usually find time to read a story to their children, thereby instilling a love for books, they are often at a loss as to how to instill a love and appreciation for mathematics.  Like reading, mathematics is a subject that is indeed necessary for functioning adequately in society.  Here are some tips to help you as you work with your child this school year.

Recognize that you make an important difference in your child's education.   Most children develop a sense of numbers way before the "regular" school years.  If you have a young child, take advantage of those early years through activities at home that teach and at the same time are enjoyable.  You might take your child on a counting walk in your neighborhood to count how many trees, shrubs, plants, houses, birds, dogs, etc. you see.  Look for twigs or pine cones or leaves, etc. and have your child count as many as s/he can. Then lay them side by side to compare the length and ask your child, "Which is the longest, which is the shortest? Are there any that are the same length?"

Provide experiences at home that help your child be successful, and seek ways to let children, even very young children, know that they are needed and important.  Cooking is a fun way to do this. Help your child follow the directions on a Kool Aid packet or frozen juice can to make refreshments for the family.  Help your child cut a fruit or vegetable into halves, fourths, thirds, etc. Let them help prepare a meal while asking, "What do you do first? Second? Third?"  or better yet, allow them to measure the ingredients for a recipe.

Children do not need a lot of motivation when it comes to recognizing and learning the value of coins.  You know they are interested when they start bugging you for money.  However, it is not sufficient for children to be able to just recognize coins, they must also know the value of these coins.  The best way to accomplish this is to use real money.  You might show your child two or more coins and have him/her tell you the total value of the coins.  Or hold up a coin.  After your child identifies it, discuss what the coin would buy at the store.  When going to the grocery store, give your child his/her own money to buy something.  Have them select an item that costs less than the money you have given them.  You can also do a similar activity by asking them to determine what are the fewest number of coins it would take to pay for the item. Give your child a practical math experience by estimating how long it takes to prepare a meal from start to finish.

Parents' attitudes toward mathematics have an impact on children's attitudes; so, be patient with your child.  A wrong answer on a math test or a homework assignment is not a time for scolding.  It tells you to look further, to ask questions, and to find out what the wrong answer is saying about your child's understanding.  Ask your child to explain how they solved the problem.  Most importantly, relax!  Know that neither you nor the teacher needs to be perfect for your child to learn math.  Remember, one bad math assignment/test will not destroy your child's ability to learn math.

But what if you need some assistance?  Luckily, in today's world, we can find mathematical help at the click of a button.  Below are some great places to go and find outside help if your child is struggling or if you need more information for yourself.

Study Shack is a great place to find or make flashcards, play hangman, do matching activities or crosswords.  It has activities for grades 1-6 as well as addition, multiplication, algebra and geometry.  Cliff's Notes for Math is site that has notes, examples and quizzes for your older children.  The subject areas include Basic Math through Calculus.  There are many on-line math dictionaries.  My favorite is A Math Dictionary for Kids because it includes animation and interactive activities.  Even You Tube is a great resource for students struggling with a concept and needing an alternative way of seeing it. 

Finally, talk about people who use math in their jobs, including builders, architects, engineers, computer professionals, and scientists.  Point out that even if your child does not plan to pursue a career in which s/he will use math, learning it is still important because math teaches you how to solve problems and how to think logically.  AND we use math everyday!

My Cute Graphics offers FREE clip art and images for teachers, classroom projects, web pages, blogs, scrapbooking, print and more. Check out the website by clicking either under the boy sitting on the equal sign at the beginning of this article or on the purple letters in this paragraph.

Parabola - The Arch Enemy?

I love to relate math to the real world with my students because that is the only way they will see the relevance.  Our family (son + his wife + three grandkids + husband) just returned from a trip to Orlando.  While driving home from Cocoa Beach, my daughter-in-law noticed a purple arch.  Being that my mind is always, always thinking about math, I informed her that it was a parabola with a negative slope.  My son, who is an engineer, starting talking about slope, and the two of us shared some equations such as the one for lines y = mx + b (much to the chagrin of the other travelers stuck in the car with us).

Mathematically speaking, a parabola is a two-dimensional, symmetrical curve or simply, a special curve shaped like an arch.  All parabolas are vaguely “U” shaped, and they have a highest or lowest point called the vertex.  The vertex is the place the parabola makes it sharpest turn.  Any point on a parabola is at an equal distance from a fixed point (the focus), and a fixed straight line (the directrix). Parabolas may open up or down and may or may not have x-intercepts, but they will always have a single y-intercept. Those that open up have a positive slope (they form a smile) and those that open down have a negative slope (they form a frown).  We always get a parabola when we graph a quadratic equation, an equation that contains a variable that is squared such as y2 = 20x or x2 - 9y = 0.

Now that all of this is as clear as mud for many of you, let's look at some parabolas in real life.  Yes, they are out there!  Can you identify the ones below?

Did the last picture stump you?  Well, it would unless you were from Los Angeles.  It is the
Encounter Restaurant, atop Los Angeles International Airport’s landmark Theme Building.

Other real life examples include....

1) Throwing or Kicking a Ball - If you throw a baseball, kick a soccer ball, shoot an arrow, fire a missile, or throw a stone, it will arc up into the air and come down again following the path of a parabola! (Except for how the air affects it.) The next time you watch a football being thrown from the quarterback to a receiver, think of a parabola.

2) Roller Coasters that arc up and down and sometimes around - the one ride I avoid! When a coaster falls from the peak (vertex) of the parabola, it is rejecting air resistance, and all the bodies are falling at the same rate. The only force here is gravity. Most people (I am NOT included) enjoy or get a thrill out of parabolic-shaped coasters because of the intense pull of gravity.

3) Reflectors - Parabolas are also used in satellite dishes and flashlights. In satellite dishes it helps reflect signals that then go to a receiver, which interprets the signals and shows satellite-transmitted channels on your television. In flashlights, car headlights and spotlights, the parabolic shape helps reflect light. Notice the beam of light coming from the flashlight on your right. See how the light appears to be in the shape of a parabola?

4) Suspension Bridges such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bride, the Washington Bridge, etc.  Suspension bridges are capable of spanning long distances and actually are the only type of bridge to span the longest distances possible for a bridge. This is because the shape of the suspension bridge is actually one of the most stable structures there is. In the image of above, can you see how the cables form parabolas?

So now you know parabolas are everywhere even when you are playing ports, watching T.V., riding a roller coaster at your favorite theme park or going cross a suspension bridge.  So what kind of parabola will you display on your face today…a negative parabola (a frown?) or a positive parabola (a smile)?