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Keeping Kids Interested in Math? 67

bcrowell asks: "As a geek, I always assumed my interest in math and science would just naturally rub off on my kids, and sure enough, my older daughter kept insisting that she wanted to be a physics teacher like me when she grew up. Now, starting first grade, she volunteers that math is 'ok,' but not as much fun as reading, and she no longer wants to be a physics teacher. Her math work at school apparently consists of 'addition packets.' What good stuff can I do to help her perceive math as fun and creative? Generations past had puzzles by Sam Lloyd. I learned a lot of science from science fiction books, but my old favorites are getting dated, and my daughter also rejects them because they have male protagonists -- she prefers Nancy Drew, although she'll read my Fantastic Four comics if Sue has a big enough part. What other things have Slashdotters found to do with their kids? Growing crystals? Baking together as a way to sneak in fractions?"
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Keeping Kids Interested in Math?

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  • Give them a different sum to solve each week, the answer to which is the amount of cash they get.
    That should sort the little terrors out.
  • Erm... Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Your_Mom ( 94238 ) <> on Thursday September 19, 2002 @09:48AM (#4288295) Homepage
    Instead of wanting to mold your daughter into a math geek, why not just let her enjoy the things that she wants to do by herself? Instead of trying to turn her toward math, why don't you just continue to encourage her reading skills and just leave it at that?

    Your Lucky enough to have a kid who actaully shows intrest in reading at all.
    • Re:Erm... Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dammital ( 220641 ) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @10:32AM (#4288615)
      Yeah, I pretty much have to second that.

      To my dismay, neither of my girls have ever shown the remotest interest in programming or tearing down our computers to see how they work. I've tried to show them what I do, but their eyes just sort of glaze over.

      They are (sob) users. Couldn't live without their wordprocessors and browsers and stuff, but they don't care much about what makes them go.

      Notwithstanding my inability to interest them in my livelihood, I guess I am doing some things right. My girls are both straight-A students, and one of them was class valedictorian this last year. They're interested in science, and are better mathematicians than I was at that age.

      What am I doing? Pretty much treating them like adults; I never talk down to them, I explain my reasoning when I make a decision, and I have grown-up conversations with them. My cardinal rule is "No BS", for I know that if I ever lied to 'em, my credibility would be shot to hell.

      As a result I have LOTS of cred, so I can mention a Slashdot article about quantum fluctuation over pizza. They listen, and maybe learn a little. I lob newspaper articles that I think are important or interesting into their laps. We have (mostly) intelligent discussions at home, talking about science news, current events, politics.

      Treat your kids with respect. Retain your authority, but delegate a lot of responsibility. Take home some of the stuff you find interesting; it'll rub off in bits and pieces. But you shouldn't get hung up on one discipline; if it's all that interesting, your kids will let you know.
      • My daughters seemed to be following a similar path until they were in University and actually had to study and learn programming in a decent formal course.

        Then then found out that it was interesting as a tool for real world problems rather than an exercise to please the high school teacher. Of course, as teenagers, they never wanted anything to do with what dad did, but now they realize what I do is not so boring.

        My eldest daughter now is living on her own with her boyfriend who is studing comp sci and has put together her own computers. As a teenager, she only wanted to read email. She even sends me slashdot references in case I might be interested.

        The best way to get anyone interested in programming (or math) is to see it as a useful tool to solve problems that people actually want to solve. So working with them on writing a game, or keep track of books read etc. is much more likely to interest them than a "learn the syntax of language X" book.

      • And perhaps even more importantly, if interests still end up diverging a bit, that's okay. Children can't be exact clones of their parents - it'd be stifling to the world we live in. While that may sound obvious, it's important to keep that in mind. Pick your battles. Since they are your children, you're virtually guaranteed to eventually find some shared interests, and that can be a lot of fun for both sides.

        (Quasi-case in point: Daddy "grew up" with DEC and loves VMS, uses Emacs as his editor du jour, and Win2k as his usual OS. I'm an embracer of the Unix Way, use vi exclusively, and stick to Debian GNU/Linux for my usual OS. But we still get along; we agree on Perl's supremacy, you see. :) )
    • Re:Erm... Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by R2.0 ( 532027 )
      "Instead of wanting to mold your daughter into a math geek, why not just let her enjoy the things that she wants to do by herself? Instead of trying to turn her toward math, why don't you just continue to encourage her reading skills and just leave it at that? "

      One reason to encourage math skills is that kids need encouragement to excel at the things they're NOT good at, not at the things they do well. True, his daughter may not turn out to be a math geek, but she should still be encouraged to learn math so that she doesn't prematurely foreclose her options in life. She may not WANT to be a computer programmer when she grows up, but without the math background, she CAN'T be one, even if she decides she wants to.

      Another reason is to fight the culture that has Barbie going "Math is Hard!" Yeah, it is hard - so is living on welfare. For all the progress made, society still assumes "Math:boys::Language:girls" I'd encourage you to support his daughter in math the same way he should support his son in reading - because there are a lot of people fighting against you.

      How? Help her with her homework. Be patient. Communicate with her teacher. Most of all, maintain your own interest - when kids are little, they want to be like their parents, so show her something to be like.
      • Well, I got the impression that she wasn't "not good" at math, she was just "not enthusiastic" about it. I never said to actvely discoruage her from math nor not help her if she is struggling. I got the idea that she doesn't like math the way I didn't, I hate algebra, I hate calculus, and I have never had a reason to use them in real life (note, I am SysAdmin, not a Software Jockey)

        My parents never pointed me in a direction that I didn't want to go in, but still encouraged me to be curious, do the things I wanted to do, and never stop learning. Did they help me out when I was struggling with Math in HS? Yes. Did they try to be exact replicas of themselves? Nope, and so far I think I turned out OK.
    • Re:Erm... Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bcrowell ( 177657 )
      why not just let her enjoy the things that she wants to do by herself?
      Math and science used to be one of the things that she wanted to do by herself. I suspect that her teachers are making math seem so boring to her that they're actively discouraging her interest.

      Your Lucky enough to have a kid who actaully shows intrest in reading at all.
      I doubt that luck has much to do with it. We've been reading to her since she was a toddler. She watches videos maybe once a month, and TV never.

      Instead of wanting to mold your daughter into a math geek[...]
      I guess the way I phrased the description did make it sound like I was trying to make her wear pocket protectors and glasses that have been repaired with tape. But honestly, I'm not trying to produce a Mini-Me. She's the one who showed this early interest in math and science. And in any case, I don't think you should have to be a geek to enjoy math, any more than you should have to be a musician to enjoy music or a painter to enjoy art.

      I think it's sad that so many people get taught to hate math by our educational system. I guess that's why it's considered OK to put down math and science, even though nobody would think it was cool to put down ballet or jazz or oil painting. We have a special word, "geek," used to put down people who like math and science. Why isn't there a word used to put down people who like to play the violin?

  • And in my proofs class we go over different ways of looking at things. Some of the ideas are in the "oh, I could have figured that out on my own" but many are quite fantastic. And learning about this stuff can be rather inspiring.

    What I'm saying is that teaching kids 1+2=3 is all well and good. But those are simple, and boring concepts. To spark their interest in math, first learning what can be done with it is better. I mean, I would have been happy to avoid learning the times tables a couple more years to explore what math is really about: patern recognition/analysis -- think puzzles, games, etc.
  • The amount that a child enjoys math even all the way up through high school is not what matters. Many kids are finishing high school these days with one or two semesters of calculus under their belts.
    However, I believe that even the kids that didnt do all that well in math can do just fine later because even though the math "builds on itself," it isnt like they are using a bunch of theorems from first grade to prove the fundamental theorem of calculus or any others.
    I say let them enjoy what they want to enjoy and when they get to jr high and high school you can start seeing if they want to be in something more. In elementary school not many kids are taking "Advanced" classes, and most all kids learn the same math. As long as she is passing dont worry about it
  • A common problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nelsonal ( 549144 ) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @09:51AM (#4288313) Journal
    Don't try make your kids cookie cutters of you! All parents seem to try to do this, and the extreme ones can have disasterous results like the kids feel like a failure, because they did not meet their folks expectations. Let your child grow up in their own way, if she likes reading, let her read. If she finds her own path through life, she is likely to be much happier than if she tries to follow Mom's or Dad's footsteps.

    A happy geek who left engineering to do finance, and whose parents supported the whole way him even though one is an engineer.
    • DOnt let hre read what she wants and find her own interests. Force her to learn math despite the fact that she hates it. Eventually, she will grow up highly intellegnt and very angry, and take over the world!!
      • Force her to learn math despite the fact that she hates it. Eventually, she will grow up highly intellegnt and very angry, and take over the world!!

        Yeah, and make sure you force her to dress in very ugly, oversized clothes. That way when she does become a supervillaness she'll want to parade around in skin-tight spandex outfits like the ones in the comic books! Catwoman: rrawr!

        Hey, you want your daughter to be successful, right? Every time the news reports about how she managed to steal some rare jewel you can get all teary-eyed and tell everyone "That's my little girl. She was always so clever."


    • I agree, let them choose their own course. But I don't think he's trying to force hsi kids into being math/sci geeks, he just wants them to enjoy the subject and be decent at it. US public schools do a fairly poor job of educating kids on math/sci, especially in the early grades, which makes a big difference down the road. It's important that he as a parent take over where the school leaves off to ensure that his children are equipped to handle the future, even if they do turn out to be liberal arts types. At least this way they know when they're getting screwed on a book contract, and can tell when a demonstration on a TV ad is complete BS from a chemistry point of view.
    • Here, Here! My parents never forced me to be like them, in fact my father actively discouraged him from taking his route through life (Never went to college), but they were always supportive in what I wanted to do and alwasy supported me through what I did. They had to kick me in the butt a couple of times, but I look back and realize it was nessecary. I'm happy the way I turned out. :)
  • by dmorin ( 25609 ) < minus bsd> on Thursday September 19, 2002 @09:53AM (#4288320) Homepage Journal
    People don't like to talk about academic skills as nature vs. nurture. They hope that by tweaking the system appropriately, everybody will like every subject (well, more specifically, they want girls to like math. I'm not sure anybody's fighting the war to get more boys to take home ec.) I just don't think it's a guaranteed win. I honestly think that people have a natural affinity for certain things that, if nurtured, will grow accordingly. BUT, if said affinity is just not there in the first place, then manipulating the system all you want won't make it appear.

    I applaud your efforts. I hope yuo get some good answers, because my first child, a daughter, is now 10 weeks old and I expect to be addressing the same issues you have in a few years. I'll admit that deep down I was heartbroken at the thought my daughter wouldn't simply follow in my geeky footsteps. However, I'm quite happy to imagine her following in the footsteps of my wife, who is in the medical field, and really has a whole different set of skills than I do.

    In short, please don't try to force her, or naturally assume that if she doesn't like math, there's something you can do to change it. The opposite is actually true, I think -- if she *does* like math, then there's *nothing* you can do to *stop* it. (I *like* emphasizing things with *stars*.)

    To anybody who's about to flame me for wanting to force my child in either my footsteps or my wife's, don't be ridiculous. There's nothing wrong with a parent having dreams for their children, and it is an honor to think that your children will want to be like you. I never said I'd force her to do anything.

  • Since she likes to read get her on word problems then you can combine the love of reading with math.

    But since she is just starting first grade give her some time. My son is just starting 2nd grade and he is ingulfed in math. First Grade generally gets them reading and counting.

  • Now, starting first grade, she volunteers that math is 'ok,'

    So how many of YOU GUYS knew exactly what you wanted to do when you started first grade? How many times did it change between then and college?
    • So how many of YOU GUYS knew exactly what you wanted to do when you started first grade?

      Exactly. What is first grade, seven years old? (I'm European, sue me.) Anyway, it's pretty young. Maths is quite an abstract subject at any stage, and at that age, you're still just learning to use the basic concepts effectively (basic arithmetic, a bit of geometry maybe).

      At that level where you're basically just learning methods (long division, long multiplication, times tables and so on), I'd venture that it's not a subject that can invoke any kind of real interest, other than pleasure at being 'good at it'. Perhaps only when you encouter equations, and start getting the first inklings that maths is more than a tool for just manipulating specific numbers, does it become an interesting subject in its own right.

      That said, I got really interested in Physics between the ages of 7 and 11, and read loads of books about quantum physics and relativity and other exciting things. Of course I didn't fully understand any of it, but I could at least see how fascinating things could be. And whaddyaknow, here I am studying Physics at university.

      What I'm saying is that it can happen, but don't expect them to be automatically interested in what you like, or in what they're studying right now. Kids have an amazing curiosity, and that should be harnessed early on to demonstrate that science is an exciting thing. I'd say it's more important to give them that kind of good mindset, than to worry about them not being interested in fractions.

      • I think you're right about the age, but at that level you aren't even doing anything more complicated than addition. I didn't start subtraction until the end of first grade, and I didn't do it very much until the second. I actually didn't start multiplication or division until third grade, and I didn't use them substantively until fourth.

        In first grade, I hated math too. Now I like it a lot (although I'm not totally hard core; I finished calculus in high school but didn't move beyond that, although I use math in many forms in my programming -- read Knuth). I hate anything that is boring and repetitive, which is exactly what learning the stupid addition tables in first grade is.

        Trust me, she won't start to like math until at *least* third grade. For me, learning how to multiply and divide was pretty cool, and all of a sudden I went bonkers and tried to multiply and divide every number I could find. My teacher even gave me special homework, because all of a sudden I did more math than the rest of my class. Like I said, before third grade, I hated it and how stupid and boring 6+7=13, 13-7=6 was.
    • I wanted to be a detective. In some ways it became a reality. I found out who was taking the toilet paper home yesterday!
    • 12 years ago, in first grade I wanted to be a rocket scientist. Now I'm writing this post from my dorm room at Carleton University [] where I'm taking Aerospace Engineering. Dreams do come true! *wipe away tear*
  • Drugs? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by baldass_newbie ( 136609 ) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @10:01AM (#4288377) Homepage Journal
    Baking together as a way to sneak in fractions?

    Dude, you shouldn't do drugs with your daughter...
    Oh, wait.
    Actually, baking is great. Try to bake a cake using only one-thirds and one-quarter measuring cups. Learn more in 5 minutes than their teachers will ever teach them.
    Teachers are half the problem (or two-thirds, can't recall right now.) Case in point, I had a Calculus prof who was brilliant. Had been teacing for 50 years and could teach Calc in his sleep. In college, it was like the profs were trying to confuse the students. There was no flow, logic or appreciation of the concepts.

    What about spatial toys like Legos, Erector Sets and Lincoln Logs? It would seem to complement math learning.

    Just make sure you don't push it too hard. Your duaghter is hitting an age where she's more inclined to do what you DON'T want, than in making Daddy happy. It's called puberty.
    Good luck.
  • You actually think math is fun. Luckily, your daughter knows better. Don't try share your delusion with her. :)

  • While I appreciate your interest in mathematics and your desire for others to enjoy it also, I caution you against pressuring your children to learn it. You could easily sour them on the subject, which would be contrary to your goal. Don't push puzzles in their face and tell them it's fun.. they won't necessarily believe you.

    The primary thing is that you must be excited about it and let your children see your doing math and enjoying it. If they see you having fun with it, they will be more likely to pick it up. Children often emulate their parents, but don't often do what their parents tell them.
  • Dude, she's in first grade. Let her keep playing with crayons and Barbies a few more (say, 8-9) years, then worry about it. There isn't a lot that kids at that age can do with math just because they're still learning basics.

    But seroiusly, my suggestion would be to go out and buy some fun physics experiment books. I had a bunch of experiment books when I was young that I would read and do stuff from on the weekends (stuff like putting ping pong balls in the updraft created by a hair dryer on low). Show her stuff that's "cool" (for boys this meant baking soda + vinegar blowing up a capped bottle...dry ice works for this as well, btw) to her that she's interested in, and mention that she'll get to do a lot more, cooler things in her physics class in high school.

    • What is called mathematics in public school is really rote learning of arithmetic and would turn off any intelligent person. Something I did when my daughter was in grade 4 and 5 was to volunteer to visit her classroom on Friday ever second week (compressed workweek helped) with a more interesting Math Club topic. YOu might want to do a similar thing if the school allows it.

      You need to get away from arithmetic as all there is to mathematics. Group theory was really interesting when you give out cards with colored sections and ask questions abnout predicting which color is on top if you rotate to left twice, flip once and rotate right once. The students were quite eager to learn how to work it out in advance.

      Combinatorics was fun when we discussed ways of pairing people for games so that everybody played prefered opponents. Having the kids actually move about to make the pairs in different parts of room made it fun, while showing the logistics problems that are solved by mathematics.

      Simple cryptography was really interesting because it allowed people to exchange secret messages, yet transposition ciphers are not that hard mathematically.

      I got a lot of interest when we discussed Cartesian geometry when I showed that one could move sprites across the screen by evaluating equations (involving addition and multiplication with a calculator).

      The normal school curriculum is designed to gurantee everyone learns the basics rather than helping bright kids explore the possibilities. So often bright kids tune out the lessons and don't even do as well as the mediocre kids. THis helped cure a bit of that.

  • by Stoke ( 86808 )

    The festivals are a great way of exposing girls to all the different fields of science. Professionals in all areas run hands-on workshops to get the kids involved.
  • by SataiCam ( 466754 ) <> on Thursday September 19, 2002 @11:10AM (#4288935) Journal
    My parents went through a similar scenario with me. I wanted to be an engineer like Dad, but somewhere along the way, I decided I really liked to read more than doing math. And I completely understand about your daughter blanching at reading science fiction with only guys as the protagonists--I did the same thing.

    I really like your idea of cooking to sneak in fractions. That's really the best way to go about it--sneak it in. If you push--like my parents did to me for a short time--she might get surly and go from "math is okay" to "math sucks ass, get off my bad, Dad." That said, make sure it's still available. Have those old sci-fi books out just in case *she* wants to pick one up. Keep an old PC handy that she can tinker with if she wants (keep it old and crusty and leave a book for learning BASIC lying around--heehee). On car trips, keep a calculator around, and when she asks "how long until we get there?" you can suggest she figure it out--I became a master at the last one. "Check Dad's speedometer, check the mile marker...we'll be to Grandma's in 2 hours. 2 hours?!?! Let me do that again...."

    Those sorts of things helped with my eventual turn around from detesting math. Word problems were a help (they were puzzles not just equations). Dad would also occasionally do "fun stuff" in the back yard (building rockets, that sort of thing--blowing things up is always appealing). The other help was when I got interested in Star Trek (TNG started when I was 7). Cheeze-Whiz as it is, my Dad watched it with me and would "casually" point out the math and science things. I had Dr. Crusher, so I could say, "cool, a girl, like me!" and I had Dad to point out the things "Dr. Crusher probably learned in school." I'm sure getting educational value from Trek was a pain for Dad. At some point it turned into lessons on why things on Trek weren't real.

    In the end, I wound up majoring in Computer Science in college. I'll honestly say that math is not one of my favorite subjects, and I'd rather read a novel than deal with a page of integrals or something, but I don't hate it, and I know how to get some level of enjoyment from it.

    Oh, and if her nitwit first grade teacher ever makes her take "timed tests" where she has to spit out addition tables from memory. Beat the teacher with a wet noodle.

    Good luck!
    • My kingdom for a mod point! I felt the same way at that age. Seriously, as a lot of people have pointed out, first grade is the age where she will start to decide for herself, but she is *far* from deciding anything absolutely.
    • Oh yeah, about the time tests, that's pretty funny. In fourth and fifth grade (same teacher) I took "Minute Math" quizzes -- you had one minute to answer as many basic arithmatic problems as possible, out of 50 total.

      As much as I hated that, I can't say it didn't help. I was a kid who didn't want to learn my tables (I still hate memorizing stuff), and if not for those stupid tests, I probably would like math in a theoretical sense but I still wouldn't be able to multiply 6*7 and immediately know that it's 42 (the most important thing to know, of course).

      Then again, my teacher went far beyond the stupid quizzes and really made me love school. She was probably the best teacher I ever had. That is, until her son went and killed a former teacher that had molested him -- if you're from the Seattle area you might remember the Cloud family -- that kind of messed her up.
  • by superid ( 46543 ) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @11:12AM (#4288954) Homepage
    On cartrips with my family, if my wife and I start discussing something sometimes one of my kids will interject with question which leads to some interesting conversations. One night we were talking about state lotteries which led to statistics and I was trying to explain to my kindergartner the basic concept of "chance" from a pool of people and what happens when there are a lot of people involved:

    "Mrs. Souza is going to pick either you or Brenny and give you this new you think you might get it?"
    "Ok, now suppose She is going to pick only one person from the whole class, do you think you might get the pencil?"
    "Ok, now suppose she is going to pick only one person from the whole school, do you think you might still get the pencil?"
    "but what?"
    "whats so special about that pencil?"
  • I graduated with a degree in math last year and along the way took several education classes (I hope to one day teach at the high school level).

    During this time I came to one possible conclusion for why a lot of kids find math hard, or just outright hate it - a good chunk of the people that go into elementary education hate math, or find it very difficult. Look into your local college, and inquire to see what the math requirements are for a degree in elementary education. I assure you that chances are it is not more difficult than a high school Algebra II class.

    I could probably write an entire essay on causes for poor math skills among elementary education teachers, and here I will just list one - poor teacher pay means that most people with math or science ability are not going to look at education as a possible career. Those who do are frequently like myself, wanting to teach middle or high school level students.

    Think about the results of having most elementary school teachers disliking math. Subconciously nor not, they are going to pass along the idea that "math is hard" and that "it is alright not to like math." Less time might be spent on math, and other subjects, such as reading and writing, might be taught with more enthusiasm.

    Note that I am not saying all elementary education teachers dislike math. Indeed, I met a couple in classes with me that were genuinely interested in mathematics. Even they agreed with me, though, that most of their fellow students strongly disliked math.

    I am also not suggesting that the cause of the original poster's problems are caused by his daughter's teacher. I would recommend that any parent concerned about thier child's education to sit in on his or her classes for a day.

    I suppose my best suggestion is to igonore the people that are posting saying "Do not push your child in one direction." In elementary school, at least in math, there is a strong possibility that the teacher is subconciously pushing students *away* from math, so something might have to be done to counteract that push.

    In elementary school, most kids are not going to resent parents for being active in their education. That is the time to do it, as opposed to during high school or college.
    • Mod this post up big time!
    • I strongly agree with your observation. I think, however, that the bigger problem is at the middle school level. I have had three talented kids in middle school over the past few years, and let me tell you, the entire administrataive staff, from the principal to the counselors to the admins seem to be deadly afraid of math. Actually, I even think the entire educational establishment is afraid of math.

      In middle school (at least here in CA) they make the kids go through a prealgebra class. What this is in practice is a bunch of half-assed algebra and geometry where lots of concepts are quickly shown, never fully explained and definitely never exercised. So kids get to see simple equations, sort of try to solve them, but never discuss in depth how one approaches solving equations. In my opinion (and I am sure most mathematicians, scientists and engineers would agree) math at this level is simply a collection of concepts and rules, and these things need to be explained, learned and exercised. No amount of tinkering and tip-toeing can take away that fact. The educators of course claim that their approach gently exposes kids to advanced math issues and lets them mature until they are ready to grasp real algebra. I believe that these educators are simply projecting their own fear and loathing of math onto the kids.

      What happens in such prealgebra classes is that many kids will pay just enough attention to coast along. They can actually get As without really understanding the subject matter. At the end of the year, they take an algebra readiness test which is supposed to tell whether they should be promoted to proper algebra or do the prealgebra again. This test along with a teacher recommendation determines a kid's fate for the next few years.

      Now, if a kid is forced to do prealgebra once again, what does any normal 12 year old do? Completely turn away from math and claim it sucks! Can't blame them. I believe countless reasonably talented kids are lost in this stupid system and end up hating math and achieving a lot less than they could math-wise. And if you turn away from a subject at the middle school level, that is pretty much it in this highly demanding and competitive system.

      As to my own children, I stomped into the counselors office every year and demanded placement in algebra after the first year in prealgebra. (Predictably, they had not aced the algebra readiness test and/or not impressed their teacher enough, and hadn't been promoted to algebra). Needless to say that they had no trouble to catch on with real algebra and bring home good grades, mostly As. So much for 'readiness'. Can't claim they love math, but they tackle it with the same level of dedication they have for most other subjects, which is fine by me.
  • Read her the story of the MIT Math Wizards [] who turned the tables on the casinos in Las Vegas.
  • Visit this [] website!
  • You might want to look at []

    The site is dedicated to making math fun for kids. There are sections that explore gemotry, interactive online games and projects.

    There are zero of those do-these-ten-problems-and-then-play-a-little-game kind of activities. At mathcats kids do the activities because the activities are fun and interesting, not because of some stupid "hook." This means that kids acutally learn something and they want to come back for more.

  • I think you have to look at what makes math interesting to a person. I personally hated math even though I did OK in math class. To me it was always about some answer that was already known, and some menial task that I had to perform to get it. It was about as much fun as taking out the trash.
    I think that some find the wonder in math and see right through to the infinite possibilities but most don't. I think that some find that they are, for whatever reason, better at math than others and enjoy it just because they good at it. There are some that just like the mechanics of math. There are people like me who don't realize how cool math is until they find a use for it. That's why I like your baking idea. "We do math because we get cookies from it." I know it sounds flakey but first impressions mean a lot. Maybe she'll be better at math because of it and like it better as a result. I know a number of kids who excelled in math through junior high simply because their parents helped them along through the early stuff. They had the basic mechanics down and were able to see the bigger picture more clearly than kids like me.

    I think the best teachers are the ones that understand this and can introduce math from various perspectives. I think that what typically happens, however, is that kids get seperated into good and bad math students. The good ones go to the teacher that loves math and relates well to the good math students. The bad math students go to the teachers that also hate math and thus they continue to hate math forever.
  • Get her out of school and into a home-schooling system that you can involve yourself in. It's a hard answer but if you're really concerned, it's your only choice.

    School is set up from top to bottom to make sure that you hate math. It is my opinion that this is accidental, but I believe it is true. With no ability to explore the topic (must do homework, effectively must not do anything else), with the word "math" associated with rote performance of addition problem after addition problem (something that should be called "arithmetic", as it doesn't make it to "math" IMHO), with the swift formation of hatred for math created in the social environment (how many fourth-graders would admit to liking math, even if they did), the deck is stacked against us (as both parents AND students) that it's a damn miracle when anybody manages to fight past this shit and realize how wonderful math is.

    Now, that said, it is certainly not for everyone and shouldn't be; I'll agree to that extent with the posts already made. But I'd say that the expression of interest before entering school is an unusual case. Whatever she liked before about math, she is being daily taught that that wasn't math, that it's really boring addition and subtraction and carrying the one that's "real" math. By extension, she will believe that she hates everything called math.

    If you leave her there, you will not be able to counter this. Not to be morbid, but it may even already be too late; it's hard to force anyone, let alone a child, to fairly re-examine something they've already passed judgement on.

    Unfortunately, most home-schooling stuff is just public-school stuff, except you do it at home. Whether or not you could create a truly useful math cirriculum is an open question, IMHO not answered because everybody assumes they MUST work in current definitions of "math" in elem. education, even if it damages the student to do so. There are a depressing number of unexamined assumptions in current education doctrine.

    One of my dreams that will probably never happen is to take a crack at this.

    (Also, it's probably worth pointing out that there is some developmental psychology worth knowing when trying to teach math. The Pieget stages of development [] aren't perfect, but they contain a lot of truth. Some math is not possible to teach to a child until they hit formal operational, and you'll only frustrate everyone if you try.)
  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @01:21PM (#4290300)

    You are confusing Mathamatics and Arithmatic. Kids are not mentally ready for math until 5th grade at the earliest. Until then then need some facts (arithmatic) as a foundation.

    Tell her those packets are boring, but sometimes life is borning, and she needs to know all that. Everyone knows that 9+7 is 16, but you need to know that without counting on your fingers, it makes the rest of what she learns possible. Just make her do it, and then let her get on with the other toys.

    Don't worry about perfect grades, make sure she knows what is going on. Spend your time teaching her how to think. Teach her to question facts to make sure they are reasonable. The best way to teach is by example. If you kids see you sit in from of the TV watching Hard Copy for your news (or the equivelent) they will learn to watch, and likely belive and care about junk news. If they see you read the Wall Street Journel or other respected papers and then discuss what you read (with your spouse, neightbors, and kids) they will learn to do the same.

    Don't be too cought up in what the kid wants to do now. Nobody is equiped to decide what to do with their life until at least 9th grade, and many switch carrers several times. The world needs Doctor, ditch diggers, and preachers. For now make sure she can do whichever one she wants to. (note that all of the above require some inborn ability that not everyone has - doctors need to deal with blood, ditch diggers need to be strong, and preachers need to understand both God and People - assuming they are not crooks, those just need to understand people)

    • What the hell are you talking about?

      Kids can learn and thrive on, math as early as kindergarten. "Not metally ready." What kind of crack are you smoking?

      You didn't even explain what you meant. What, will their heads explode if they learn math before grade 5?

      (For a single case study, I knew how to divide and multiply before I entered grade 1.)

      Don't listen to the parent of this message, the guy doesn't know what the hell he's bloody well talking about.
      • Multiplication and division is arithmatic, NOT MATH! Math teachs I have tlked to have all told me that kids are not mentally ready for math (by which I mean algebra and calculas for starters) before 5th grade or latter. That is okay though, kids need arithmatic (multiplication and division) before they are ready for real math anyway, and it takes years to learn that well.

        No, heads to not explode, but kids will not do well either. The brain is not fully developed yet, we need to work within its limits. Push them to develop perhaps, but push to hard and frusteration is the result and then less is learned when the brain finially is ready.

    • You are confusing Mathamatics and Arithmatic. Kids are not mentally ready for math until 5th grade at the earliest. Until then then need some facts (arithmatic) as a foundation.

      Eh? By 1st grade I was happily doing algebra at home. By second crade I could factor some polynomials. By 5th grade I was in love with Euclidean Geometry, by 7th grade I never wanted to see another mathbook again so long as I lived.
      The reason for the above progression is that my dad loved math, I could do basic math, understood negative numbers, and was quite proficient at all of the normal arithmatic before I even began school. He continued to keep me ahead of the school, and when I was a little kid I didn't mind breezing through assignments in school because it was still fun to get rewarded through recognition as being good at it. By middle school, recognition meant I got the shit kicked out of me at lunch every day. So I stopped doing anything in class. I aced the tests, did none of the homework, and made Cs. Good enough to pass, low enough to stay off the teachers radar. The capacity for learning is present from the beginning, it just has to be fed. But that isn't always a good thing, if you speed past the rest of your age group, eventually you are subject to ridicule which checks your development and can sometimes turn you completely off of a subject. Because of my own experiences I NEVER really learned Trig or Calc. By 11th grade I had stopped liking mathematics except as an outlet to show the people who worked hard and got As that I was still smarter than they were by doing the really hard problems and nothing else. So I didn't pay attention in class, didn't do any work, and eventually found out I couldn't do even the easy probs in Calc. I ended up failing calculus, and it sucked.
      So be careful what you wish for, your kid might be a math genius for 10 years and then decide it's not worth the aggravation and give up.

  • Sue (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    she prefers Nancy Drew, although she'll read my Fantastic Four comics if Sue has a big enough part.
    I always thought Sue had plenty big parts.

  • I hated math in first grade, too. It was boring as all of heck. In college, I went out of my way to take some of the more advanced math courses offered, because by that time it was interesting. Just because your daughter doesn't like first grade math doesn't mean she won't like any math. In the meantime, just let her enjoy the first grade.
  • I really wouldn't worry too much about it, being first grade and all...

    I didn't become interested in really geeky stuff until much later.

    And anyway math isn't REALLY interesting untill you you get to a sufficiently high level. I guess that the early on the primary thing is to avoid becoming scared or getting too many knocks...
    maybe teaching her some tricks, like Trachtenbergs methods [] would help her feel good at it. (this is the original book... i bet something better has cropped up since). The methods are amazingly fast though... (being able to add as fast as the bar code reader at the supermarket is really neat in a geeky kind a way :) )

    Feeling you're good at something certainly can't hurt.
  • One of the big things that would make kids appreciate math more is tying it into practical engineering. I had zero interest in math in elementary school and High School because no one ever showed me it was good for things like flow in pipes and machining tolerances. Elementary vectors are not that hard and I would love to try teaching a kid that there are some neat things that happen when you push down on a chair. A lot of engineering can be done with basic algebra and I think it would make kids feel a lot better about this scary, overwhelming subject if they could see pictures and were taught practical applications based on mathematics principles. Even relatively young kids could probably understand that a vector has a number and a direction and the value of units like m/s distance etc. [-)
  • The thing that worked for me growing up was educational computer games. I don't mean some of the s-.. stuff.. that's being made today, although some of that is still okay; I mean the old stuff, like Castle of Dr. Brain (not just math, but still good), or (Number|Fraction|...) Munchers, and so on. I don't honestly know if there's anything out there that keeps kid's attentions and is still actually educational these days, but it's worth a shot.

    Now, if you do do this, make sure you're still interacting! Ask your child if they're having fun and what type of game he or she would prefer. It's the only way to make sure it's not boring, to be honest.

  • ... not to be quite so much of a faminazi.

    There's nothing wrong with a male protagonist, and your daughter's unwillingness to read books with male protagonists suggests a rejection of male role models.

    Looks to me like you're just another one of those whipped geeks who's let your wife walk all over you since you got married and now your daughter's picking up on it--why would she want to be whipped just like you? Why would she be interested in math when geeks like you like math?
  • It's not a question of steering kids toward something. It's just a question of keeping possibilities open, making sure that nothing is blocked or made inaccessible to them. Just make sure all doors are open, don't try to push them through any particular doorway.

    If a girl grows up and never sees or hears about any female scientists, orchestra conductors, veterinarians, she may internalize the idea that "girls don't do that." That was a problem in the 1950's, but now now. And if you're interested in math, just let your geekish enthusiasm show. That will be enough.

    That being said, I ONCE had a wonderful afternoon with my daughter. But only once. It was the only time we had fun doing a math-geekish thing together. She was much older than your daughter, seventh or eighth grade, and was given the opportunity to do a math project for extra credit and was allowed to suggest her own project. She came to me for ideas. I suggested something, she liked it, teacher approved it and approved my helping with it and supervising it.

    The project was to estimate the value of pi five different ways.

    I had her measure the circumference and diameter of a bicycle wheel with a metric measuring tape. Then I had her drop the most spherical rubber ball we could find into a metric measuring cup, see how much water it displaced, and solve for pi in four-thirds pi R cubed. Then we did the thing of pitching a needle onto a paper ruled with horizontal lines. And I set out a worksheet for her to calculate it with two different series, the one that converges VERY SLOWLY (1 - 1/3 + 1/5 - 1/7) and one that converges fairly quickly (the one with the 5's and the 239's in it).

    She enjoyed doing it but was a little frustrated by the inaccuracies of first four methods. But when she got pi to six places by the third method (I had carefully laid out a worksheet with places for all the intermediate results) she was really quite pleased and excited.

    As I say, it only happened once, but it was a great afternoon.
  • by bakes ( 87194 ) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @08:36PM (#4294013) Journal
    Most of the comments I have read focus on making arithmetic fun. Mathematics is such an enormous field, and many of those can be made fun.

    Remember spirograph? Beautiful pictures, very simply done, based on mathematics. Draw some dots in a 'L' shape on a piece of paper and use a ruler to make curves with straight lines (you know what I mean). Bash some nails into a piece of wood and do the same thing with some coloured string. Draw up a pascals triangle and colour code the numbers (multiples of 2, 3, 4 etc in different colours).

    Use a fibonacci sequence to draw boxes (1st box 1x1, 2nd box 2x1, 3rd box 3x2, etc using the long side of the previous box as the short side of the next), then draw quarter circles within the boxes to get a nice spiral effect. Check out the Sybase logo for an example.

    Then you have graphs of 3D functions, and axial rotations of 2D functions. There are many more ideas. Young kids like pretty pictures with lots of colours.

    She doesn't necessarily have to understand the mathematics right now, she'll just enjoy doing stuff with you, getting a nice picture out of it, and most importantly she'll associate "maths" with "fun".
  • It depends how much it matters to you. She's at the age where arithmetic is the skill she needs to learn and learning it is unpleasant. If you are willing to make a more radical break you might want to try something like Waldorf. Their math follows human history so at her age they do rythmic math (i.e. song and dance related math) in 2nd grade math in the ancient world style later grades they use geometry to teach math -- i.e. a^2 - b^2 = (a+b)(a-b) is really expressed as the difference of two physical squares being a particular rectange. Trig is taught be doing stuff like construcing a mini pryamid.

    Its pretty neat. In all fairness they focus a great deal more on fine art; but they leave behind a genuine interest in math and an understanding of how creative the subject really is.

    Its worth checking out if your goal is to get her interested.

  • games like that are simple enough that kids can get the hang of them pretty quickly and they boil down to finding clever ways to arrange numbers. backgammon and probability. what's the likelihood of rolling a seven? and now what's the likelihood of rolling a seven with a five and two? also, do those things that make it clear that math is all about the real world. that math is everywhere. until this year my kids were homeschooled and it became apparent that things like stories on NPR were loaded with instances where math--and plenty of other basic concepts-- was inherent. in fact, i flunked calculus twice in college before i realized that it wasn't some stupid exercise. then one day, i and a couple housemates used calc to figure out how long the groove on a 12" lp would be if you stretched it out. i flunked calc twice more after that. but i knew how long the groove was.
  • Get her a video game for math. When my daughters were that age they wore MathBlaster out. In high school and college they always took and passed the hardest math courses available. In first grade kids just want to have fun and if they have learning, they retain it better.
  • When I was in college, I used to tutor Physics and math and based on informal surveys I used to do on people, I came up with a pretty decent (at least in my mind) theory. Being that math is a cumulative subject, most people stop learning math at some point in their academic careers when they encounter a teacher that can't communicate the concepts to them in a way they understand. All it takes is one bad teacher to screw it up for them for good (depending on their willingness to try to catch up). Most people I encountered had that bad teacher and stopped learning math at that point. It made it so much harder to catch up to everyone else and eventually they gave up until they got to college and had to take algebra to graduate with their major. I suggest making sure that they simply don't fall behind in math and they will be ok. They don't have to be math wizzes, just make sure they don't fall behind. They decide for sure what they want to do when they get older. One thing to remember is that many times your children will head exactly in the opposite direction of where it seems like they should head based on genetics/environment. I've always known that I wanted to be a scientist, but I'm a strange duck!

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."