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Family Math

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Renée Richard-Smith

The Family Math books serve a dual purpose. First, they provide activities that an afterschool leader can use to introduce and provide practice for a variety of mathematical concepts. In addition, they offer a step-by-step plan to organize a Math Class Series that enables parents and afterschool leaders to work alongside their children to learn about and practice math. I evaluated Family Math—The Middle School Years and Family Math II—Achieving Success in Mathematics K-6. I found the activities to be creative, thoughtful, and appropriate for the afterschool environment. The books are great at integrating math into games, puzzles, and everyday activities, and can be used with a group of students that have varied mathematics experience. Although the instructions are clear, it will help teachers to have some algebra experience, especially when teaching middle school students.
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The Family Math books serve a dual purpose. First, they provide activities that an afterschool leader can use to introduce a variety of mathematical concepts. In addition, they offer a step-by-step plan to organize a Math Class Series that enables parents and afterschool leaders to work alongside their children to learn about and practice math.

Either way, afterschool instructors can use these books to create programs that help students improve their math skills, even if the group includes a wide range of math abilities. Based on my experience with afterschool students, the activities provided in the book are a good fit for use by afterschool leaders, given their hectic schedules and their desire to find materials that will interest their students. Most of the of the activities and games require less than 10 minutes of preparation time, and instructors should have little trouble getting students started. The activities and games use tools and materials that are readily available, and all can be used over and over again once they are obtained. The books encourage leaders to adjust the games to match students' varying degrees of math skill. To make a problem more accessible, for example, you might let students work together; to make it more challenging, have students modify the materials provided for each activity or work with a new group or partner.

These materials are entertaining and work well for groups of students as well as for parents and afterschool leaders. Through these activities, afterschool leaders can introduce mathematical concepts that students can then experiment with in pairs or groups. Since students can work together, they find these activities to be a nonthreatening and fun way "do" math. The books introduce a wide range of concepts in a pleasant variety of formats, including games, puzzles, and interesting math problems. These activities are fun, engaging and creative, so they appeal to many types of learners and students with different skills in math.

For me, the best feature of these Family Math books is their integration of important mathematical concepts into games, puzzles, and everyday activities. Using simple materials in small groups, students learn in a way that seems far removed from a traditional classroom dynamic. Family Math lets students learn while playing with each other, a situation that many kids find far more appealing than the classroom setting. As students share their ideas and discuss their thought processes, they become familiar with underlying mathematical concepts. They learn while enjoying the activities.

The Family Math materials are easy to use. Despite this reviewer's acknowledged lack of recent experience with algebra, I had no problem leading the math games. Though I noted that some of the concepts in Family Math: The Middle School Years were challenging, none were too hard to complete. The guide provides an example of how to address each concept introduced and samples for solving the problems as well. This helps the typical afterschool leader, who may not be an expert, to lead a math activity with confidence. The instructions for the games are simple and quick to read. Most of the activities do not require a lot of time, and the games can be altered to fit a particular age group or math level. The step-by-step guide to planning a math series is helpful. It includes information about how to reach out to families so that they too can be involved in learning math with the children. Despite the features that help instructors who lack math experience, a program coordinator with some experience teaching algebra would be best suited to use Family Math with middle-schoolers.

The Family Math Series is a good value for an afterschool instructor because it offers such great variety and appeals to kids with different levels of mathematical experience. The activities may serve as a springboard for applying useful mathematical concepts and will give afterschool leaders ideas for how to incorporate math throughout their programs. By making important mathematical concepts fun and entertaining, and letting students work in small groups, Family Math gives afterschool students the chance to think critically and discuss the processes they employ to solve problems using math. Students see how they can apply lessons from math to real-life situations and how they might use what they learn in life or in a career. Family Math-The Middle School Years specifically identifies how math skills are necessary to pursue different career paths, helping students see how understanding mathematical concepts may influence the career options open to them in the future.

4700 Mueller Blvd. • Austin, TX 78723 • 800-476-6861