Much has changed in the teaching and learning of mathematics in

Much has changed in the teaching and learning of mathematics in recent years. While comfort
with math procedures and quick recall of facts are still valued, increased emphasis is being
placed on helping students acquire “conceptual understanding” of mathematics. This means
that students will understand why a particular procedure works and can determine what
mathematics is needed to solve a problem in a ‘real life’ situation.
Research has found that students learn best through math activities that encourage them to
explore and share their varied strategies and possible solutions to meaningful and relevant
problem situations. Students learn from each other when they share their ideas and justify their
thinking. The teacher spends time developing the “rich” mathematics tasks that allow for the
student learning to unfold. By asking questions that prompt thinking and require students to
explain their ideas, the teacher supports students with developing their understanding of
important math concepts.
As parents, you may be aware that the Ontario Mathematics Curriculum outlines expectations at
each grade level in terms of both math content (topics) and math process (how we ‘do’ the
math) expectations. Students at all grade levels are expected to learn and apply these
processes as they work to achieve the math content expectations. It is these process
expectations that students are engaged in when they work at “rich” mathematics tasks. The
process expectations include:
Problem Solving
Reasoning and Proving
Selecting Tools and Computational Strategies
The math tasks and learning opportunities that students are engaged in allow them to develop
and demonstrate these processes. In our classrooms, problem solving activities are a regular
part of the mathematics we “do”. Students work in small groups, partners and/or independently,
tackling multi-step problems that often have more than one correct solution. Teaching and
learning through problem solving is engaging and helps students become more confident in
their mathematical abilities. Working collaboratively to solve problems, students share their
ideas and articulate their understandings, developing their communication skills along the way.
Authentic, “real life” problem solving tasks allow students to make connections between
mathematics and situations outside the classroom.
As parents, you can help your child to develop these process skills by looking for the
mathematics in everyday tasks and thinking about the questions you might ask to get your child
to think ‘mathematically’. Real life problem solving situations occur all of the time, so engage
your child in helping to find solutions. For example:
Invite your child to help in the kitchen. Ask him/her to determine, for example, the
number of batches of muffins that can be made from 3 cups of milk, if each batch
requires 3 of a cup of milk.
Ask them to create different seating arrangements to accommodate a large number of
guests for a family function. What table arrangements are
possible? Which works best in the space available and with
the number of guests invited?
When doing crafts or building projects with your child, have
them measure materials. Determine for example, how many 2
metre sections of board can be cut from a 7 and a half metre
board to be used to build picture frames. How many pieces
can be cut and how many picture frames can be built?
Sports statistics provide many opportunities for math thinking and are often of interest to
children. For example, encourage your child to find and compare the goals-againstaverage for their favourite goalies, or the best combined score in figure skating
Clothes shopping or packing also might provide opportunities for thinking
mathematically. For example, given 3 shirts, 2 pants, 1 pair of shorts, and 3 pairs of
shoes, how many different outfit combinations can be made?
When shopping with your child, have them use estimation to determine the approximate
bill total; calculate sales tax, change, discounts (20% off sale); determine the best deal
by comparing prices; finding the cost of items when the posted price is for multiple
quantities of an item (e.g.- lemons 3 for $1; How much for 1? for 5?)
It is important to ask your child how they solved each problem and have them explain how they
know the solution makes sense. Your child’s strategies may be different than yours, but equally
reasonable, therefore, be sure to listen carefully and honour the math thinking that your child
has engaged in. Keep in mind that there is usually more than one way to solve a problem and
that the way we, as parents, were taught in school, while correct is not the only way and/or
necessarily the way that makes sense to our children. Your child’s explanation of a strategy
used to solve a problem and why it works (or didn’t) can reveal a great deal about their
understanding of math concepts. Finally, by modelling an interest in mathematics and
demonstrating how it is an important part of everyday life, you can support your “budding
mathematicians”. Most importantly, it will help your child to develop a positive attitude towards
math and recognize it as an important life skill.
Further Information
If you would like to learn more about the Math Process expectations, go
to: ; pages 11-17
If you would like more suggestions as to how you can support your child in applying
mathematics to ‘real-life’ situations, go to: for Helping Your Child Learn Math:
A Parent’s Guide published by the Ontario Ministry of Education containing simple activities that
you can do with your child to explore math at home. Suitable for students in Grades K-3. for Helping Your Child to do Math: A Guide for
Parents also published by the Ontario Ministry of Education include tips as well as practical
activities that can be used at home and in your local community. Suitable for students in Grades
The following websites provide math activities and games for children to try at home. It is
always suggested that parents preview sites for appropriate materials for their child.