Building a Strong Foundation in Math: Tips, Resources, and Activities to Foster a Love of Math at Home

The New Century School is unique in combining a robust music and arts program; triple language-learning; and a student-driven, inquiry-based approach with a competitive academic environment. Although TNCS embodies the antithesis of the “three r’s” (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) approach to education that focuses on rote learning, math is a paramount discipline that is duly emphasized.

Math Programs at TNCS

While doing math includes a certain amount of repetition, the purpose of math does not reside in knowing the times tables for the sake of knowing them. Applying math to real-world problems makes math dynamic, interactive, and meaningful at TNCS. Math hones powers of reasoning, creativity, abstract/spatial thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving ability, and communication skills. Math opens up possibility.

At TNCS, math starts early. The youngest preschoolers on up through the primary division have access to Montessori math materials, for example, which help children progress from concrete/discrete “manipulatives” to abstract concepts. Once TNCS students graduate to the elementary program, they have dedicated math classes that consist of some combination of a Daily 4 rotation. They work independently, in small groups, one-on-one with the teacher, and with a computer.

The crux of the elementary math program is Singapore Math, the basic components of which are 1) a Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract approach, 2) model drawing, 3) teaching to mastery, 4) spiral progression, 5) and metacognition. In middle school, the Go Math! curriculum is used that emphasizes conceptual understanding, fluency, and application.

Differentiation is a part of every math division—wherever a student happens to be on his or her math journey, that student is supported and guided forward. Moreover, math is taught as a uniting, globalizing force. While students are doing math, everyone speaks the same language no matter what country they are from. This concept is conveyed best by TNCS’s annual participation in the Math Kangaroo competition, a math contest with 6 million participants worldwide. In Maryland alone, over 800 students participate. TNCS has had multiple students place nationally since joining the competition.

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In the 2018 Math Kangaroo competition, three TNCS students placed in the Top 20 nationally!

Math in Summer: Practice Makes Progress!

Beloved-School-Building1Math is a constant presence in our lives, whether or not we are always conscious of its ubiquity. Sunflowers, snowflakes, nautiluses, and even Romanesco broccoli are geometrically inclined examples of how the Golden Ratio, also known as the Fibonacci sequence, manifests in nature. (Need a Fibonacci refresher? Each number is the sum of the two numbers that precede it: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and so on, ad infinitum). This cosmic numbering system is phenomenal enough, but animals even down to the Arthropoda actively employ math–cicadas count years, butterflies use physics to plot and adjust complex flight trajectories, ants calculate the fastest paths to their destinations, and now bees are thought to understand zero.

Just as math is a part of everyday life, for students to excel in math, they should do math every day. Summertime is no different: Daily math is critical for optimal student success. Each summer, TNCS offers resources to support student gains made during the school year and to combat the summer slide. (Scroll below for a list of where you can access past years’ offerings.)

Research has shown that math achievement is often the hardest hit over the summer months, if math practice is not kept up. TNCS administrators recommend that TNCS students practice math every day (or at least three to four times per week) and have made summer workbooks available to help students get in the habit of daily math.
The workbook is ideal for summertime, because it can be done in the car during road trips, while vacationing, before and after mealtimes, and on days of inclement weather. Its convenience makes it easy to work in frequent small increments.tncs-summer-math-resources

“My strong feeling is that children should do math daily,” said TNCS Co-Executive Director/Co-Founder Jennifer Lawner. “Just like music. It is hard to get kids to practice if you make them do it intermittently, but easy if it is a required part of the day. Even if they only do 15 minutes of math on a given a day, it keeps the mind going.”

An essential component for daily summer math success is parent involvement. Parents are encouraged to review work completed periodically to ensure students are staying on the right track. Make and post a schedule to help your student maintain discipline and to avoid fights.

If daily math is not possible, encourage as many days of the week as possible with a schedule like this:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: Math practice from 8:00 am–8:15 am
  • Sunday: 15 minutes of math practice for bonus

Bonus can be whatever your family enjoys doing together, such as taking a walk or bike ride in the park, making a trip to the library or the zoo, and so on.

The workbooks will be collected and reviewed the first week of the 2018–2019 school year by your child’s math teacher.

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“The reality is that there is an entire globe of students doing daily math through the summer, and, if our children are not doing it, they are not going to be competitive,” said Mrs. Lawner.

Although workbook practice is the preferred method of doing daily summer math, math game apps and websites are another option that can be used supplementally. However, these are not as effective at keeping skills sharp, and they have the added disadvantage of contributing to screen time, so, ideally, they should not be the exclusive means of math practice during summer. A more effective supplemental way to encourage daily math is to help your child work it into other daily activities. Find some creative ways to “Get into the Daily Math Mindset This Summer” on TNCS’s brand-new web page: Summer Learning Resources.

The bottom line is, if you set expectations and work with your children at home, you will foster strong mastery and a love of math that will serve them well academically and professionally. As math is necessary for art and music, it is also a bridge between the humanities and the natural sciences. Said mathematician-turned-philosopher Bertrand Russell: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere . . . without appeal to any part of our weaker nature . . . yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.”


TNCS Students Discover Math-e-Magic!

math-e-magic

Master Magician Bradley Fields captivates the audience with his famous magic illusions then teaches the secrets behind some startling math tricks.

On Thursday, February 12th, The New Century School kindergarten and elementary students took a field trip to Goucher College, where they were delighted and amazed . . . by numbers!

The show was put on by Arts on Stage, who provide “Live, Professional Theatre Field Trips for Students and Families.” Inside Goucher’s Kraushaar Auditorium, Master Magician Bradley Fields got a packed audience of elementary-age kids from a dozen or so area schools practicing their math skills from their seats while he “prestidigitated” on stage. The word prestidigitation comes from the Latin for “nimble finger” and denotes performing magic tricks, but Mr. Fields extracts another fortuitous meaning out of the word. His digitation also includes agility with numbers—you know, digits!

Mr. Fields has been called “one of the top magicians in the country” and has appeared on Broadway and on television. His popularity with teachers and students alike should be no surprise—his show integrates math, history, vocabulary, geography, everyday problem-solving, and science, but the audience is captivated by the power and beauty of his illusion-making. He weaves quite a spell with stories of ancient Egyptian pharoahs, soothsayers who accurately predict the future, and a dreaming/sleepwalking banker who turns anything he touches into coins, among others. The audience was so caught up in the enchantment that they didn’t even realize they were practicing addition, subtraction, and more advanced math skills the whole time!

 

Because his love of numbers and how they interact is so vast, Mr. Fields provides his “tricks” as a downloadable Study Guide so everyone can enjoy math. He also revealed some of the machinery of his act during the performance as if to show the audience that they can also harness the power of illusion.

Please download the Study Guide at the above link, but here is a taste of some math trickery to get you started!

Easy Mind-Reading

Magical effect: You guess any number your audience is thinking.

How to perform: 

  1.  Ask your audience to think of any number but keep it secret: e.g., 10
  2. Now ask him or her to double the secret number: e.g., 20 (10 x 2 = 20)
  3. Now ask him or her to multiply by 5: e.g., 100 (20 x 5 = 100)
  4. Ask him or her to give you the final answer (i.e., 100).
  5. Reveal their secret number! Secret: once you know the final answer, mentally slice off and discard the rightmost digit (i.e., the last 0).

Too easy for you? Try this one!

Miracle Number Prediction

Magical effect: You will read your audience’s mind.

How to perform: 

  1. Announce that you will read your audience’s mind.
  2. Ask him or her to hold an envelope in which you have sealed your prediction of his or her mathematical thoughts.
  3. Ask him or her to write down a number made of 3 different digits (the first and last digits must differ by more than 1): e.g., 937
  4. Tell him or her to reverse the number and subtract the smaller number from the larger: e.g., 937 – 739 = 198
  5. Have him or her reverse the difference and add: e.g., 198 + 891 = 1,089
  6. Now ask the envelope-keeper to open your prediction and read it aloud. Bet you didn’t know that the answer will always be 1,089!

Amazing telepathy! Amazing, magical math!

Elementary Math and Reading Skills: Important Predictors of Successful Adulthood

As July winds down and the start of the 2013–2014 school-year looms, our thoughts turn back to academics. A recent study puts new importance on the early elementary years, a growing cohort at The New Century School. This year, TNCS will expand to fourth grade, in fact.

The study, published in Psychological Science by researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, demonstrates that math and reading ability at age 7 years are linked with socioeconomic status (SES) in adulthood. Interestingly, although math and reading ability was also significantly associated with intelligence scores, academic motivation, and education duration, the association with later SES was independent of the family’s SES during childhood. Moreover, the researchers were not expecting to find that specifically math and reading ability were more important than general intelligence in determining SES. In other words, what we’re born with and what we’re born into may not be as important as what we learn in second grade.

They say that their findings emphasize the importance of learned skills. What this boils down to is really good news for students—the return on improving these skills at all levels is huge, from remedial to the most gifted. “Math and reading are two of the most intervention-friendly topics,” they say. “Practice improves nearly all children.”

The media has reported these findings widely, but often with a distorted perspective. Many have equated SES with financial success, and that’s not the whole story here. SES correlates with many measures of happiness and societal functioning in addition to what let’s call economic efficacy, to distinguish it from the mercenary-sounding “financial success.”

In any case, this is reinforcement that the elementary years should provide a solid foundation in how to learn. As much of the TNCS student body approaches or progresses through these critical elementary years, we’ll see the fruits of those Montessori methods come to bear as the kids transition from number rods and bead cubes to conventional ciphering, from tracing letters and learning phonemes to reading and writing. We can feel secure that TNCS students are getting this essential math and reading practice and then some. Their futures look very promising indeed.

Hard at work with the hundreds board rapt boy writing