Immigrant Parents Can Help Their Children Adapt to Elementary Schools

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dixon2Imagine a second grader named Rosaisela who might face the following math problem in class.  “Carlos has saved $9.  The next day he received his allowance.  Now he has $12.  How much money did he receive for his allowance?”  In a traditional class, one in Mexico or in various schools in the U.S., teachers would have asked Rosaisela to write a response like 12 – 9 = 3.  But in some primary schools in the Quad Cities,
the teacher could have asked Rosaisela to represent this problem in a different way.  For example, the teacher could ask his students (like Rosaisela) to draw a diagram of the problem, to count forward from 9 to 12, or to use doubles (3 + 3 …), and then, to demonstrate and justify their responses.  This is an example of the type of mathematics that your child could face.  It is possibly very different, too, to the process that you remember in your experience in Mexico or other parts of Latin America.
A few years ago I traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico, and observed instruction in public primary schools for a couple of months.  The schools used traditional methods like those many schools use in the U.S. now.  But some schools in Illinois are reforming their methods of teaching mathematics.  Some scientific investigations suggest that these methods are better.  In fact, according to some studies, students can learn how to solve problems in general and understand calculations much more readily when they are exposed to these ‘new’ types of instruction.  Thus, it is necessary—if parents of school children want to help their kids in schools—that they become familiar with these new ways of doing math.
One way to do this more easily is using daily activities at home that reinforce those math problems completed at school.  For example, almost every day 1st and 2nd –and often 3rd—grade teachers review numbers on the calendar with their students.  Using a calendar at home—and keeping the new math principles in mind—parents can reemphasize what their children are learning at school.  The calendar activities can reinforce very easily the math processes and concepts, called “number sense”—skills such as counting forward or backward, identifying doubles (the date, 3 of January, then, the 6th, 9th, 12th, etc.), noting even and odd numbers (1, 3, 5 versus 2, 4, 6), resolving word problems using dates on the calendar important to friends or to family.  Just think about Rosaisela’s math problem above.  If her parents would have worked with her to succeed in identifying doubles and counting forward using the calendar, the answer would have been a snap.
Biographical note: Doug Dixon has been a professor of education for nearly 10 years and has taught educational research courses.  More recently he has worked in and investigated more than 20 primary schools in Texas.

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