Reading Resource - Advice for Parents, from Professor Jo Boaler

Do you remember how excited your children were about math when they were young?
How they were excited by patterns in nature? How they rearranged a set of objects and
found, with delight, that they had the same number? Before children start school they
often talk about math with curiosity and wonder, but soon after they start school many
children decide that math is confusing and scary and they are not a “math person”. This is
because math in many schools is all about procedures, memorization and deciding which
children can and which cannot. Math has become a performance subject and students of
all ages are more likely to tell you that math is all about answering questions correctly
than tell you about the beauty of the subject or the way it piques their interest.

Given the performance and test-driven culture of our schools, with over-packed
curriculum and stressed out students, what can parents do to transform math for their
children? Here are some steps to take:

Encourage children to play math puzzles and games. Award winning mathematician,
Sarah Flannery reported that her math achievement and enthusiasm came not from school
but from the puzzles she was given to solve at home. Puzzles and games – anything with
a dice really – will help kids enjoy math, and develop number sense, which is critically

Always be encouraging and never tell kids they are wrong when they are working on
math problems. Instead find the logic in their thinking – there is always some logic to
what they say. For example if your child multiplies 3 by 4 and gets 7, say – Oh I see what
you are thinking, you are using what you know about addition to add 3 and 4, when we
multiply we have 4 groups of 3…

Never associate math with speed. It is not important to work quickly, and we now know
that forcing kids to work quickly on math is the best way to start math anxiety for
children, especially girls. Don’t use flashcards or other speed drills. Instead use visual
activities such as https://bhi61nm2cr3mkdgk1dtaov18-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-

Never share with your children the idea that you were bad at math at school or you
dislike it – especially if you are a mother. Researchers found that as soon as mothers
shared that idea with their daughters, their daughter’s achievement went down.

Encourage number sense. What separates high and low achievers is number sense –
having an idea of the size of numbers and being able to separate and combine numbers
flexibly. For example, when working out 29 + 56, if you take one from the 56 and make it
30 + 55, it is much easier to work out. The flexibility to work with numbers in this way is
what is called number sense and it is very important.

Perhaps most important of all – encourage a “growth mindset” let students know that they
have unlimited math potential and that being good at math is all about working hard.
When children have a growth mindset, they do well with challenges and do better in
school overall. When children have a fixed mindset and they encounter difficult work,
they often conclude that they are not “a math person”. One way in which parents
encourage a fixed mindset is by telling their children they are “smart” when they do
something well. That seems like a nice thing to do, but it sets children up for difficulties
later, as when kids fail at something they will inevitably conclude that they aren’t smart
after all.  Instead use growth praise such as “it is great that you have learned that”, “I
really like your thinking about that”. When they tell you something is hard for them, or
they have made a mistake, tell them: “That’s wonderful, your brain is growing!”

Resources for Parents


Online Courses for

Students, Teachers and Parents https://www.youcubed.org/categ...

Student Page


Parent Page


Recommended Apps and Games


More Information about Brain Science https://www.youcubed.org/think...

Jo’s Mindset Book http://tinyurl.com/qxhnqsh

Maths Tasks to Do At Home https://www.youcubed.org/tasks...

Week of Inspirational Maths Curriculum https://www.youcubed.org/week-of-