Family connections

BuildING on Math Strengths with FamilIes

Spark Math Talks with Your Children Daily with Math Happenings!

Dr. Mike Shaughnessy, past president of NCTM shared a message for families that there is no math gene and parents should never say, “I was never good at math, so what can I do to help my child?” He shared how we must remember, 1) mathematics is important, and we can all do it. (2) to work together as a team with your child—don’t show how to do it. (3) to Investigate the wonderful math resources that can provide assistance when helping your children with their math!

He also shared these Six DO’s for Families and Their Math Students

  1. Be positive

  2. Link mathematics with daily life (Check out Math Happenings and Bedtime Math)

  3. Make mathematics fun

  4. Learn about mathematics-related careers

  5. Have high expectations for your students

  6. Support homework—don’t do it!

Our website offers routines, tasks and games that can be engaging ways to reinforce students' strengths and build bridges to advance student understanding. Many of the games can be played with family members to reinforce math talk around strategies and rehearsal of facts to build automaticity and efficiency,

Families have Rich Funds of knowledge that can strengthen students' Mathematical understandings.

Dr. Marta Civil has worked many decades advancing the understanding of how partnerships between parents and teachers can help students succeed in the classroom. Dr. Civil's work focuses on the funds of knowledge (González, Moll, and Amanti, 2005) and parents as intellectual resources (Civil & Andrade, 2003). Appreciation of families as an intellectual resources can highlight and sustain cultural and community practices (Paris & Alim, 2012) that celebrate linguistic, literacies (include math literacy) and diverse cultures as part of schooling. Moll et al., (1992) suggested that children and families have a body of knowledge that they use at home and in their communities that teachers can draw on this unique knowledge during instruction to make new and unfamiliar concepts more relevant and applicable to children (Celedón-Pattichis, Musanti, & Marshall, 2010). and connect the informal math children and families already use mathematics in their everyday life to the math they are learning in school.

We also focus on strength based instruction in our project and lean on the work by Korbett and Karp in their book called Strengths-based Mathematics Teaching. These authors share a toolkit for parents to supports all students to recognize their value, develop an identity as a competent learner, increase their confidence, and engage in learning with clarity and purpose (Korbett & Karp, 2021). See the toolkit here

To leverage household knowledge as a source of teaching and learning in classrooms, we invite children to share math happenings. Math happening (Suh, 2007) is a routine that allows teachers to tap into students’ funds of knowledge (Gonzalez, Andrade, Civil, & Moll, 2001; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992). See below to get started with Math Happenings with your children.

Other Wonderful Resources to Share with Families

VDOE Math Literacy with Families

Math Happenings

Math Games with Families

Bedtime Math

Math Family Guide from NCTM

Strength-based Toolkit for Parents

ask children, "Did you have a math happening today?"

Here is how to start a Math Happening!

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: Math happenings occur daily in all of our lives. The math happening lessons serve as a framework for teaching many mathematical concepts within the context of real-life math events. The teacher’s or parent's/guardian's role in the math happening is:

  • to encourage children to share stories about events that actually happen to them

  • to interpret, translate, and represent these stories mathematically, using multiple representations

  • to introduce other math concepts for which children are ready.

OBJECTIVE: Model with Math

Share a real-life event (math happening) and pose a question that can be answered using the information given in a math event from everyday life.

Key Processes- Problem Posing, Making Assumptions, Solving a Problem, Look for Patterns and Generalizations and Reflect the solution back to the Real world phenomenon.

MATERIALS: real world math materials, artifacts, photos, letter or an email. Read The Math Curse by Jon Sciezca and Lane Smith. This is a great read-aloud for children to experience all the math they experience in a given day at school.

Getting Started: Teachers/Guardians can start with a story that happened to them in their life.

  • Math happened to me. Let me tell you about it. (Tell the story. Talk outloud what you are trying to find out. What information do I need? Ask the question to help simplify the real world problem.)

  • What math happened to you? Tell us about it. Tell me what you did last night, yesterday, or this weekend. (Listen to the event. Probe to gain enough information to make a math story and ask a question.)

Use this organizer to unpack the math! As more “math happenings” are shared in class, students will be able to better connect the math they are learning to their everyday encounters. Soon students will be coming to school after a weekend and saying, “ I had a math happening this weekend….”

As more “math happenings” are shared at home and in class, children will be able to better connect the math they are learning to their everyday encounters. Soon students will be coming to school after a weekend and saying, “ I had a math happening this weekend….”

Math Modeling by Tapping in to Students' Lived Experiences

Here are five practices to promote modeling math in the real world-

(1) The Practice of Problem Posing-What’s the “Math Happening”?

What’s the “Math Happening”? The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” Albert Einstein

Children are natural at this- In fact, Steven Hawkins said, ” I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.”

Asking questions and posing problem is quite natural for children. In fact, that is how they naturally learn. This curiosity and inquisitiveness is sometimes squelched when students are only asked to find answers to problems. Math Happenings signature practice is encouraging children to ask questions and pose problems in their world.

(2) Tapping into Children’s Funds of Knowledge – What do we already know?

What do we already know that can help us?

Tapping to students’ funds of knowledge is the second signature practice. Children come with a lot of knowledge- could come from informal learning, home environment, peers or other experiences and background knowledge. Drawing knowledge they own and tapping into their existing schema can amplify the learning. For example, in estimating the number of people who can ride a bus, students might be bus riders themselves and have a good sense of estimation for the number of friends who ride their bus. In a problem about finding the best deals for planning a big family meal for a reunion, they may know of places for discounts, coupons, or bulk buying that can help with the problem formulation.

(3) Making Assumptions to Mathematize.- What do we need to know?

If I knew_______then, I can figure out_________. (Make assumptions.)

Real world problems are messy and has many variables that can be accounted for and not accounted for. The best way to tackle a problem is to draw on as much on the known variable and make assumptions that can lead to the best solution. This requires one to make some reasonable estimates or assumptions based on what they know. This may involve defining the variable and constraints in their problem. For example, in Planning a Family Reunion, and a Meal Plan, one will have to make some assumption about how big their Turkey should be for everyone to have a good portion.If I knew about how many pounds of turkey each person eats then, I can figure out what size to buy. (Make assumptions.) Would 1 pound of turkey per person be a good estimate? Or in my cases, how much Galbi (Korean bbq short ribs) should I prepare for our Family reunion?

4) Do the math! Solve!

Build a Math Model or General Rule

(What math can I use to solve the problem?)

5) Does the solution make sense?

(Think back to the problem statement. Does the solution work?)

How can you Revise, Refine and Report your solution? (What might you change?)

In addition, through many lesson studies focused on mathematical modeling, I have found that a math routine like ‘Math Happenings” introduces students to process of mathematizing their world and building a closer relationship with mathematics. Students begin to see themselves as math doers and thinkers. They see the utility of mathematics and the relevance to their lives. Empowers our students as they see that mathematics can serve them.

Here are some examples from Dr. Suh's Blog! Enjoy!


Celedón-Pattichis, S., Musanti, S. I., & Marshall, M. (2010). Bilingual teachers’ reflections on students’ native language and culture to teach mathematics. In M. Foote (Ed.), Mathematics teaching and learning in K-12: Equity and professional development (pp. 7-24). New York, NY: Palgrave Mcmillan.

Civil, M., & Andrade, R. (2003) Collaborative practice with parents: the role of researcher as mediator. In A. Peter-Koop, A. Begg, C. Breen, & V. Santos-Wagner (Eds.), Collaboration in teacher education: Working towards a common goal (pp. 153-168). Boston, MA: Kluwer.

González, N., Moll, L., & Amanti, C. (Eds.) (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practice in

households, communities, and classrooms. New York: Routledge

González, N., Andrade, R., Civil, M., & Moll, L. (2001). Bridging funds of distributed knowledge: Creating zones of practices in mathematics. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 6(1-2), 115–132.

Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132-141.

Shaughnessy, Michael J., Past president of NCTM in NCTM Summing Up, December 2010

Korbett, B. & Karp, H. (2021). Strengths-Based Teaching and Learning in Mathematics. Corwin.

Suh, J. M. (2007). Tying it all together: Building mathematics proficiency for all students. Teaching Children Mathematics, 14(3), 163-169.