Q:
I found your blog as I was looking for information about teaching mathematical reasoning to my 2nd grader. Although it sounds like your focus is on older students, I wondered if you would share your thoughts about technology in elementary schools. My daughter’s school is focused on technology. Not a single book comes home. Not even a math book. Homework for math is online as well. The website used for required homework is ixl.com. My concern is that while this homework is drill and practice (feeding one problem after the other) the assessments are all on paper. I also miss the traditional math textbook with strategies for problem solving outlined. I read your article on how to help children at home with mathematical reasoning.  I am trying to incorporate these strategies, but it is difficult since I am not yet in the habit of thinking this way and I am juggling with all three kids & running the household on a daily basis. I have expressed my concerns with the teacher, but he says that the curriculum in Georgia (now using Common Core) is challenging and requires students to apply learning. Would appreciate your feedback when you have time.

A:
While drill-and-practice is essential for students to master basic skills, these types of practice problems are not ideal for helping students find deeper meaning in these math concepts (similar to how practicing grammar doesn’t help one become a more eloquent writer). Students often discover this on their own with the help of a teacher or textbook. It’s critical that students learn to be their own teachers, and having a textbook can help with this if students are disciplined enough to self-study. I’m not sure if this would work for every child, but from age seven through age 15, my father would buy me an assortment of math books suitable for my level and make me study every day (15 minutes per day at age seven, which grew to two hours per day by age 15). The assortment of books offered a variety of explanations, which helped me as a learner, but more importantly, I learned how to be my own teacher. This turned out to be the most valuable skill throughout college when I majored in math and economics, especially when the professor wasn’t the best at explaining concepts. I highly recommend buying a few math books if she doesn’t have any at school. If you have even five minutes each day to ask your second grader what she learned during her self-study, you’re reinforcing a positive attitude about math and helping her recognize math as an ordinary activity of everyday life, like eating breakfast!

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