As math teachers, you’ve probably heard someone say, “Math just isn’t taught the same way it was when I was in school!” For many families, this simple statement highlights a serious problem: Families don’t feel confident helping their students with math work at home because the methods, problem types, and vocabulary feels totally unfamiliar. When families don’t feel capable of supporting their students with work at home, they can start to feel disconnected from their student’s learning and worried about their inability to engage with content at home.
Building Strong Home–School Connections
Families are not only an incredibly important part of a students’ support system, but they are critical to students’ academic success as well. A strong home-school connection empowers families and gives them the opportunity to help their students with academics, and advocate for their students’ needs. Because many families feel that math is different today than it was for them, and because of the math anxiety many adults still feel, it is especially important for math teachers to take proactive steps to create these strong home-school relationships.
One step you can take is offering families a look at the content their students will be covering. For some teachers, this might mean sending home a list of the year’s topics, key concepts, and standards that students will address. This could also include sample problems with worked solutions and key vocabulary.
Whatever you decide to send home, the key is to ensure families can digest what you are showing them and feel empowered to ask follow up questions if necessary. A focus on family-friendly language–avoid too much content specific jargon unless you provide clear definition–can help families feel more comfortable talking to their students about the content and trying to support their learning at home.
Another step you can take to help families feel more connected to the classroom content is sending home student work with feedback. This can take more time and, depending on the number of students you serve, may not be feasible. But, if you are able to send home a few assignments with feedback, families can recognize the areas for growth in their own students’ work and use these as entry points to help them at home.
Regardless of class size, one strategy that can be incredibly helpful for families is to simply share any resources that they can use with their students to practice their math skills. This might be an email list with links to different websites that your students have used in school–if your students have IXL accounts, for example, ensure that families know how to access this site with their students at home. You can also include links to sites like Khan Academy that include videos your students can watch with their families to address particular topics they need help with.
Inviting families into their students’ math education can not only help families feel more connected to their school community, but also feel valued as the incredibly important part of their children’s academic lives that they are.
Resources to Inform and Empower Families
Fishtank Math, a free 3rd grade–8th grade curriculum, offers resources to make teachers’ lives easier and their instruction more effective. Because we recognize the importance of involving families in their students’ math education, we wanted to create something to help teachers more easily engage student’s families. So, we created Fishtank Math Family Guides. With a Fishtank Plus account, teachers gain access to a Family Guide for each math unit that they can use to inform and empower their students’ families.
Each Family Guide includes a family-friendly overview of the ideas covered in the unit with sample student responses to illustrate and strategies to reinforce the content at home. The “Connections at Home” section of the guide outlines opportunities to connect the unit content to everyday life and includes prompts to help get students talking about their work in math class.
By empowering families to start these conversations about math at home, teachers can deepen the connection between home and school and ensure that families feel involved in their students’ educational lives. Additionally, distributing resources to families that were specifically designed with them in mind reinforces the value that they bring to their student’s academic growth.