Getting educators on the same page with Common Core State Standards and the Mathematical Practice Standards can be hard enough, but what about taking the message home? Changing the face of education and the way a classroom functions can mean frustration for families. I hear moms at the ballpark all the time bemoaning the “new math” and how they can’t help with homework. They don’t understand or see the need for the changes, no matter what kind of faith they have in the teacher or school. Parent education nights are a necessity for bringing families on board and up to speed on what is going on in the classroom. Even in places where parent participation can be hard to come by, making the effort to reach out can create a big impact.
Setup of your math (or ELA) night should fit the needs of your parents. As a first introduction to the CCSS and to help parents see the “big picture,” a whole-school setting might be in order. Last year, my school hosted a math night, inviting everyone to the auditorium. Each grade level had a representative go up and give a five-minute overview of the big ideas for that grade level, plus offering one manipulative or quick at-home game that would be applicable.
Families heard from each grade, which allowed them to see the connection and growth of skills from kindergarten to fifth grade. After everyone spoke, teachers from each grade level were available to meet with parents and hand out more information, manipulatives to take home, or explain in more details.
Other schools prefer to keep each grade separate, allowing parents to travel from class to class participating in activities. Our school has held Parent Math Education Nights this year, where parents come to a 30-40 minute session in the classroom. Two teachers explain the current math goals, offering at-home games and a chance for parents to see some class activities in process. The whole school chooses a focus domain each night, so the talk is consistent from grade to grade.
No matter the setup you choose, frequency of the nights, or the grades you serve, having some common ground is important. Here I’ll show you some suggestions for kindergarten through fifth grade introduction of number sense and how to create a cohesive night with handouts for each grade.
Have a firm understanding of how the mathematical progression works. Visual progressions, like the hexagon map from turnonccmath.net, can be useful. Then, know what the big focus areas at each grade level are. I use a chart with each focus area represented to help organize the information. This should be the foundation for talking to families, and the big ideas you want to get across to parents.
The two main areas of focus for kindergarten are representing and comparing whole numbers, and describing shapes and space. The real focus is truly understanding numbers. For example, the number six is not just a six. Students have to recognize the digit, spell it, read it, count to six, find six objects, and create a six by putting other numbers together.
Take Home: Primary Number Cards (with pictures)
Uses: Students can use them to identify numbers, find a number when asked, count items and label them with the cards, put items together using the cards as picture clues, and compare two cards to determine what card is higher.
There are four main focus areas for first grade, but the real focus is still on number sense and number relationships with addition and subtraction concepts mixed in.
Uses: Students can play “doubles war” with cards. Have students each lay two cards from their pile at random. They add the cards together and then see if their total is higher than their partner’s total. The highest sum takes all the cards for that round. Dot cards with unusual patters and mixing cards with numbers and dots makes students internalize numbers.
Second grade is the last “number sense” grade. Though the concepts continue to build, it is the third year in a row students are growing their number sense through repetition and repeated reasoning,
Uses: Students can use hundred charts to build number sense and familiarity. Challenge them to find one more, ten less, thirty more, etc. Cover spaces and find what is missing from the hundred chart. Tangrams make fun play shapes and students can categorize and sort shapes by attributes.
Third grade takes the number sense and understanding from second grade and kicks it up a notch with multiplication, division, and fractions. The idea is students grounded in their understanding can now combine and break apart numbers in new ways.
Uses: Students can build and break apart numbers both physically with the blocks, but also with the digits. These foundations help subtraction with regrouping and multiplication strategies. When students begin to divide, breaking blocks into equal groups is a good activity to visualize what division truly is.
Fractions rule in fourth grade. Multiplication and division concepts keep building, but fractions are the biggest focus. Fourth graders also need to understand geometric shapes based on their properties, such as parallel lines and right angles.
Take Home: Fraction Bars
Uses: Students compare and order fractions visually with fraction bars. They can see how the pieces compare in size and use strips to see adding, subtracting, and multiplication easily. Fraction strips can also help visualize harder division problems, such as ¼ of 200. Giving more than one set of strips to each student can allow students to build and deconstruct mixed numbers.
Fifth grade expands on the fourth grade fraction concepts, specifically teaching multiplication and division of fractions. Decimals integrate into multiplication and division, along with negative numbers. Fifth grade also introduces volume measurements. Again, the focus is on building the less-than-one concepts with decimals, fractions, and negative integers.
Take Home: Algebra Tiles
Uses: Algebra tiles can help students build more complex problems and color-coding can make negative numbers more accessible. MathBits has an easy to follow tutorial for using algebra tiles parents and students can access at home for more help.
What ways are you using parent nights to introduce and reinforce what is going on in the classroom?