Keep it in the family

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Gill Moore describes a scheme where parents can bone up on maths

I can still remember the anguish I felt as I struggled with homework. I couldn't understand and my mother's attempts to help only baffled me more.

And only yesterday, the same story was repeated to me by parents coming into school for a family learning course.

They had volunteered to come into Charnwood Primary School in Lichfield for two hours a week for a course which provided an adult support tutor (me).

The school's maths co-ordinator, Amy Wilkinson, and myself led the programme, explaining the numeracy curriculum, organising activities and answering questions. The teacher worked with the children, while I helped the parents.

The language used in school for maths is often unfamiliar to parents. One of the first questions parents ask is: "When did it became 'numeracy'

instead of 'maths'?"

Another question is about the use of "sum" as a specific term for addition (rather than a generic term for any maths operations), and "product" for the outcome of multiplication. Many parents are also not confident with the correct names for shapes.

A handout sheet of maths vocabulary was useful. And a handout which is excellent is the set of Mathematics Learning leaflets produced by BEAM.

There is one leaflet for each year (Reception to Year 6) and each gives instructions for activities parents can share with children at home and explains which maths concepts the children are expected to understand by the end of each year.

But nothing engages the parents more or shows more clearly how maths is taught than observing in the classroom. After we had explained what we were going to see, we took the parents into a Year 3 class during a numeracy hour so they could see a mental maths session. The enthusiasm of the children and the pace of the lesson left them buzzing and they were surprised by some of the visual aids, particularly the number line. They had never seen maths explained like this and were fascinated by the way the sums were recorded, showing jumps along the number line, instead of the columns of figures they were used to.

Written methods are of great interest to the parents but cause some anxiety to me in case they muddle the child by using inappropriate ones. After the observation, the parents discussed what they had seen. We gave them some practice sheets and let them have a go at addition and subtraction using the number line approach.

At a later session, they tried using a number square for multiplication. We also showed them how the children are taught multiplication and division using a number stick, and written methods using a matrix.

Parents wanted to know when tables are taught and whether calculators are encouraged, and were generally quite surprised at the level reached in Years 5 and 6 - especially in fractions, percentages, decimals and area, which most parents believed they didn't learn until secondary school.

Parents may think that shapes and space are not important at this age but if you want them to understand this aspect of the curriculum, a maths trail or a session playing games involving shapes are fun and also provide them with more examples of things they can do at home.

Finally, we took the parents into the computer suite and suggested some websites with games. After some exploration, they did some of the activities with their own children.

During the sessions it was great to see the parents gain confidence and understanding and how well their children responded to their being in school.

A programme such as this can be done in four sessions, and have this structure: lStart with the parents all together and explain the aspect of maths they are going to see.

lLet them watch a short session in the classroom or bring out some children to work with them.

lWithdraw from the session, give the parents refreshments and have an informal questions session, or let the parents try out an activity for themselves.

The benefits are not limited to having parents who are more informed and involved. Parents might also improve their own maths through an FE college.

The teacher I worked with also has a personal development target to inform parents about numeracy in the school. Your local education authority may be able to help with funding to provide materials.

= l Charnwood's course was set up by Staffordshire LEA, in conjunction with Tamworth and Lichfield College The Mathematics Learning series is free from the DfES, product code ORP-123456 and ORP-R. Tel: 0845 602 2260.

Charnwood subscribes to Espresso, a broadband education company

Other websites we looked at included

The Basic Skills Agency promotes family learning:

Gill Moore is a basic skills lecturer at Tamworth and Lichfield College

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