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The Questions Every Parent Needs to Ask their Child's Math Teacher

Jul 26, 2010

DALLAS, July 26 /PRNewswire/ -- It's a rite of autumn for every parent: getting the kids ready to go back to school, followed all too quickly by the impending "Parents' Night."

You hear the welcoming address from the principal, visit the gym and cafeteria, and soon you're navigating classroom after classroom and wondering, "Just what do I say when I meet Suzy's math teacher if I don't understand this stuff myself?" Math teachers themselves have the answer.

"Actually, when a parent asks me how they can help their son or daughter be successful in mathematics, it helps establish a partnership between us," says Steven Ouellette(1), a mathematics teacher in Westwood High School in Massachusetts.

In fact a few key questions during even a brief teacher-parent meeting, tells parents a lot about their child's math program, and ways they can foster their child's success.

How is the math class taught and how is it graded?

"If the math class is lecture only, beware," says Patrick Flynn(1), a mathematics teacher at Olathe East High School in Kansas. "If the teacher explains the variety of ways a class is taught, then all will be well." Does the teacher use a combination of techniques addressing a number of learning styles from lecture to hands-on, practical math exercises? Do they encourage in-class collaborative exercises and the use of learning tools such as graphing calculators?

Don't be shy about asking how a class is graded. "Finding out how a class is graded tells you a lot about how to help your student learn," says Holly Larsson, math subject matter specialist for Texas Instruments Education Technology who is returning to the classroom this fall. "What's the relative grading value of homework, class participation, quizzes, group projects or exams? They're all important, but if you're only seeing homework and not quizzes, then you may be missing an important indicator of your child's progress."

Larsson also advises asking teachers if they post quiz and test results on a secure school website that parents can access to help track their child's progress, or if they post lesson assignments, or even answers to past homework assignments.

What about homework?

"Absolutely ask your child's teacher about homework requirements," Larsson continued. "Can the assignment be completed during school hours or should it be done at home? Should homework take 20 minutes a day? Are assignments given twice a week or every day? How much time should my son or daughter spend preparing for tests? These questions help parents gauge if their child is spending enough time preparing for the class. Or, if they're spending too much time on homework, it may be a sign the child is struggling and needs extra support."

What kind of learning tools are used in class?

Learning advanced mathematics is more about understanding and applying concepts to practical problems, rather than rote memorization and calculation. "Ask what kind of graphing calculator is being used in the class or if one is part of the school's text book curriculum," advises Larsson.

"Today's graphing calculators, such as the TI-NspireTM with Touchpad graphing calculator, let students see and manipulate math exercises to quickly gain insight into concepts and apply advanced math to solve practical applications."

"How can I help my child study for math?"

"The most common question, or misconception I hear from parents is, 'You can't study for math, right?' meaning they think studying for math is different from other subjects," says Jennifer Wilson, mathematics teacher at Northwest Rankin High School in Mississippi. "Studying for math exams involves practicing problems, and reviewing exercises from class. Many students take a math test without first working through examples."

Encourage your child to work through the practice exercise in their text books and go online to find free study tools or exercises from sites such as NCTM Illuminations or Education.ti.com. Teachers also advise students to rework problems from homework and quizzes, so parents need to make sure their child is saving all class materials. Meanwhile, many schools offer before and after school tutoring programs to provide extra help for struggling students.

What's your makeup or re-test policy?

This is a good question, but it has its pros and cons. "Some people feel that retesting discourages students from studying for their first test, while others feel retesting is a good way to relearn concepts that a student is struggling with," Larsson said. "It's the kind of question you should definitely discuss with your child's teacher." She also advises asking about class make-up policy when a child misses a class. Can homework assignments be retrieved online and worked on at home on a handheld graphing calculator?

As Steven Ouellette said, helping students excel in mathematics is a partnership involving teachers, students and their parents. Asking the right questions early in the school year is a good start in helping parents take an active role in shaping their child's academic success.

For more information on the TI-Nspire with Touchpad graphing calculator, visit


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(1) Steven Ouellette, Patrick Flynn and Jennifer Wilson are T3 instructors for TI's Teachers Teaching with Technology professional development program.

SOURCE Texas Instruments Incorporated