No parent left behind: Resources abound to help parents conquer math with their children

Published: Sunday, Dec. 2 2012 6:10 p.m. MST

In the United States, passing Algebra II is an important gateway to success in college and careers, said Moore. Students who lack a strong foundation in math when they graduate from high school will have a harder time getting into college, and will likely need to take remedial courses. Many won't finish college.

"If you don't get through that first college-level math class, a lot of doors are closed to you," Moore said. "There are so many fewer opportunities for people with just a high school diploma. Almost all of the high-wage programs require a foundation of algebra skills."

Building on Algebra II by taking Trigonometry or Precalculus has additional advantages, more than doubling the odds that a student will complete a bachelor's degree, according to a U.S. Department of Education study.

Mastering the core

Parents who want to trace the progression of concepts taught in Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Trigonometry and Calculus have a new avenue for getting information. The District of Columbia and 45 states have adopted common core state standards that will improve the availability of math resources online and elsewhere, Moore said. And, states won’t have to keep reinventing the wheel for math helps.

"Now there will be common ground, and that's got potential for being helpful to teachers and parents," he said.

Moore recommends the illustrativemathematics.org website for parents who want to trace the progression of the common core math concepts their children need to master. The site was created for teachers, but is helpful for families, too.

Numerous websites offer free math instruction, Moore said, and Khan Academy's website, khanacademy.org, is one of his favorites.

"What Khan has done is break things down into small bits — focused topics, and supportive video about the topics," he said. "There are substantial sets of problems students can work through, set up in a game-oriented environment."

Few parents realize that most math textbook companies have websites that offer chapter-by-chapter explanations of math concepts, and these can be a good source of help. Sometimes, though, tutoring from an expert is the best solution, even when a parent is willing to help.

San Diego dad Mark Shapiro got good grades in high school, but math was always his weak point. Now, when he tries to help his kids, Jane, 14, and Emma, 18, he looks at their textbooks and has “no concept.” He, too, is convinced that math used to be simpler.

Even as a student, it was clear to him that when he had a good math teacher, he did really well. The years he had a bad teacher were awful. “It all depends on the teacher they have and how much that teacher has experience to explain the math.”

He tried to get referrals from teachers, friends and friends who are teachers. Most didn’t have a clear suggestion on where he could get help as his kids began to struggle with math. Jane, he said, was shy and hated going in after school to ask for help. His enthusiasm waned. To help, he’d go online and do some reading and checking. It worked, but it was cumbersome.

Almost by accident, he tripped over a math tutor, located across the country in New York, who happened to belong to the same business bartering group he did. The owner of math123.com said he didn’t have a tutor available in San Diego but was willing to provide help by phone. It was a marvel, said Shapiro. Within 90 minutes, Jane not only had the concepts down, but they’d figured out where she got lost so she could catch up.

“He told me a lot of people who are good teachers are not good tutors and a lot who are good in math can’t teach or tutor,” Shapiro said. “His advantage was he knew the book and could take her through it without having it in front of him. We were lucky I found him.”

If free resources aren’t enough, professional tutoring can be worth its cost. Learning centers, such as Sylvan or Kumon, can test for learning gaps, then create programs to help students catch up, manage daily homework and study for tests.

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