Guest Blog: Actively Engaging Parents in Teaching Maths

Georgina Murphy, Maths Teacher and Deputy Principal at Duiske College Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny, gives practical advice for parents to help and support children in maths.


The national strategy for Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life (DES, 2011), states that the support of parents who are engaged in their child’s learning has a significantly positive impact on a child’s attainment especially in literacy and numeracy and that this is particularly important for those children at risk of educational under-achievement. The strategy also stresses that while socio-economic status is considered the greatest predictor of academic success and failure, parental involvement can significantly mitigate the negative effects of low socioeconomic status or low parental educational attainment

As Deputy Principal of a small DEIS school in South Kilkenny and as a Maths teacher, I believe parents are the key to a positive Maths journey through life. We have taken small steps to enhance parental support and involvement in numeracy in our school.

One of the initiatives was to invite Dr Brendan Guildea to speak to the student body and in turn the parents in the school.

Brendan Guildea features regularly in the media, leading discussions on the teaching of Maths, the Mathematics syllabus and the state examinations. He presents revision seminars and also teaches DEIS students under Trinity College Access Program. Brendan recently published a book titled “Parents Handbook – Supporting your Maths student”. The book is an attempt to enhance the skills a parent/guardian requires to support a second level maths student, to give no nonsense, clear, practical advice, to assist in the quest to boost the student’s self-esteem and fulfil their potential in the State Examinations, to explain the maths journey the students are undertaking and to illustrate gender differences that give insight into how to support each gender type. Brendan is also somewhat of a comedian and definitely has the ability to lighten the mood in any room and make a “Maths talk” more interactive and interesting to say the least.

He was received very well in our school and feedback from parents was excellent, the general remark made by parents was that they can and should play a greater role in their children’s maths education. The problem is that most parents simply don’t know how. This situation is complicated by the fact that many parents struggled with maths themselves, making it more difficult for them to help their children and often resulting in their inadvertently passing on their own maths phobia.

For me, one of the best things parents can do to improve their children’s maths literacy is to encourage them not to accept that they can’t do it and encourage a can do attitude towards  Maths. Also to know that it’s OK not to be able to do everything and to ask for help , it’s not just the right thing to do but also the expectation of Maths teachers across the country. The day of “he’ll kill me if it’s not all correct” is well gone and parents need to be aware that to complete one question for one student is just as good as ten perfectly answered by another student. Project Maths has tried to take away the fear of getting incorrect answers by rewarding correct methods and understanding rather than just the answer but this caused a lot of confusion along the way for parents. Taking time in schools to explain the process to parents and for them to understand what students are doing in Numeracy is another small step forward.

Helping children develop mathematical reasoning on their own is crucial. What students observe, discover and learn outside the classroom can often benefit them more than what they learn in class. The former tends to be practical and applicable in real situations outside academia; the latter often focuses on the theoretical and the abstract. Parents can help merge these two realms.

Early education experts stress reading to children every day, and maths should be part of a daily regimen as well. Since most parents use maths in some form every day, they should be able to help their children develop mathematical reasoning without going too far out of their way to design lessons or learn more maths themselves (although this certainly helps if parents have the time). Here are a few ideas:

Estimate, estimate, estimate
When grocery shopping, estimate how much all the groceries will cost. When driving, estimate how long it will take to get to your destination. When you’re on a road trip and you can see the road miles or kilometres ahead, estimate how many miles/kilometers away the furthest point is (and use the odometer (milometer) to check your guess). You can make this a contest; whoever is closest to the actual amount gets a prize!

Read the news
The news is filled with statistics, all of which must be taken in with a critical eye. Students should know the source, year, sample size (if applicable) and methodology used to find these statistics. This isn’t to say students should conduct a research study of each news article, but they should at least be aware of these vital pieces. This also helps them remain up to date on current affairs and become informed citizens and critical thinkers.

Be financially savvy
When you’re grocery shopping and there are multiple brands for the same product, look at the price per ounce / gram (usually in small letters at the bottom of the price tag). Ask them to work out which of competing items is the best value. What does 3 for the price of 2 mean? What is 50% extra free?  Is it better to buy a big jar or two small jars?

Get them to do personal budgets – track their mobile phone bills and usage. Open a savings account.  This way they start learning financial responsibility (arguably one of the most crucial application of maths!) and are forced to regularly practice estimation (always be aware of how much is in their bank account), percentages (spending/saving) and basic arithmetic.

Play games
Chess, card games and Monopoly are great games for developing mathematical thinking. In chess, there are many options for where to move. Players need to predict their opponent’s best moves and calculate responses. As players get better, they think several moves ahead. (Grandmasters can think more than twenty moves in advance!) Chess helps with calculation, prediction, strategy and analytical thinking. Card games such as poker are great for developing a sense of probability. Calling, raising, folding, bluffing are all decisions that should be based on the probability of the player’s cards being better than the other players’. Monopoly is a fun simulation of real estate investments and also allows for good arithmetic practice.

These are just a few suggestions, but mathematical opportunities arise everywhere, all the time. Parents and students should always keep their eyes out for a chance to utilize math concepts. When doing any calculations, avoid using calculators (unless a mathematical problem involves a complex decimal, square root or other calculation that can’t be accurately derived or estimated in the head).

Turning everyday occurrences and household tasks into lessons not only helps students with their mathematical reasoning skills and sense of applied math, but prepares them for adulthood. I urge policymakers and other education reformers to develop more strategies for including parents in these efforts.



Georgina Murphy, Deputy Principal, Duiske College, Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny

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