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Activities, apps and attitude: Keys to math achievement

Carolyn Rahaman is a professional SSAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds a Master's degree in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University.

Children need to have a positive outlook toward mathematics if they wish to succeed in it. You can act as a role model by first displaying a positive attitude of your own!

girl doing math

Photo credits: Sean Justice/Photodisc/Getty Images

The main predictor of children's achievement in mathematics can be condensed into one simple attribute: their attitude toward the subject. If students fear mathematics or carry an obvious disdain for it, they are less likely to do well in their math classes, in part because they'll have more trouble learning difficult concepts. This reality may prevent individuals from embracing mathematical and logical thinking outside the classroom.

There are a number of books about how to engage your child in mathematics, but this article will focus on how you, as a parent, can utilize your own attitude as a model for your children.

The people in a child's life have a strong influence on the child, and their opinions have a strong influence on the child's opinions. This is most true of the people a child encounters at home. A mathematics instructor can wax poetic about the glory of algebra, but students can find the instructor's opinions biased and can thus ignore them. Also, if parents see their children doing math homework and say, "I hated math in school," those children are more likely to adopt a negative value system regarding math. So, your child's attitude begins with your own.

How can you foster an attitude of mathematical appreciation? Start by speaking positively and encouragingly about math, even if you dislike or do not understand the subject. Don't allow your disdain for math to show. Saying, "That looks difficult, so I'm very impressed you can do that," is better than saying, "That looks difficult," followed by a grimace.

Now, of course, this positive attitude may be tested if your child begins to struggle. If that happens, you should foster an atmosphere in which your child knows it's completely acceptable to request assistance. You can encourage students to ask their teachers for additional help, or you can match them with a tutor or a friend who understands the material. Let them know that it's perfectly all right to admit it when they're having a problem. Avoid attaching any stigma to it. Tell them that there's nothing embarrassing about asking for help and that there's nothing problematic about not knowing a correct answer immediately. Tell them that there's only something wrong when they don't put in the work to learn what they don't know. Have your children practice this concept more than their homework strictly requires, and again, let them know that it's OK to ask for help.

Apps can be especially helpful for struggling children. There are apps for drills and practice, flash card apps for memorization, games for learning algebra and geometry and apps that include instructional videos, diagrams, cartoons and jingles. There is an app for nearly any topic with which your student is having trouble, and such an app can assist you both. In fact, there are so many apps that it is often hard to pick just one. Browse reviews online and test several of the resources to determine which apps your children like and find helpful, as well as which ones fit their learning style.

Encourage the discovery of mathematics outside of what's required in the classroom. Try activities that make use of logical reasoning. The results may not be immediately apparent in your children's class work, but it will assist with their mathematical thinking. Coloring books with tessellations or regular patterns, sudoku, Pic-a-Pix, Minesweeper, logic puzzles and jigsaw puzzles are all activities that can improve mathematical reasoning. You can complete these activities with your child while acting as a role model.

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit www.varsitytutors.com.

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