What Is Your Child Learning in Math?
by Ron Tagliapietra
Do you enjoy teaching math? Christian parents can get excited about God's truths in math as they watch their children grow more Christ-like through mathematical study. If you are finding math class a drudgery, reevaluate your teaching. Be sure that your goals are Christ-centered and then check that your teaching methods and textbooks effectively direct energy toward the attainment of those goals.
You, as a parent teaching math, desire your child to excel on achievement tests. However, reasoning skills, character development, and an understanding of the role of math in God's universe are also crucial. You know you have failed if your child rejects Christian faith even though showing high achievement. A child must also grow in the knowledge of truth as well as in skills and principles. As educators, we must ask whether we are succeeding in meeting our goals. Children learn more than facts from teachers and textbooks; they also learn attitudes and philosophies. Students apply these learned viewpoints long after they forget a formula.
As you choose a math curriculum and prepare your lessons, keep the following ideas in mind.
"Whatsoever things are true...think on these things" (Phil. 4:8). Most parents teaching math succeed in emphasizing the importance of truth simply by correcting homework. Grading naturally demonstrates that math is not a matter of opinion. There are true and false statements, right and wrong answers. While you may give partial credit for correct steps, do not lead your student to think that the wrong answer is right.
"Let all things be done decently and in order" (I Cor. 14:40). Numbers, though abstract, are governed, like the rest of God's creation, by a harmonious and beautiful order. Your lesson plan, your classroom area, and your textbook should display order too. Check the table of contents in your textbook. If related lessons are grouped by topic into chapters, your child is learning about the order that God made in math. Every time he takes a chapter test and starts a new chapter, he should recognize that he has studied another unit in God's order.
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21). God expects us to seek wisdom and understanding. Children must study, question, check, and verify--as the Bereans checked Paul's teaching against Scripture. You must continually help your child to face this challenge. Do you teach a recipe approach--just demanding that he follow a specific formula? Or do you seek to transmit principles and concepts by having him prove formulas, look for applications, and so on? The textbook also must guide children to understanding by explaining the principles and showing students how to use the concepts. Does the text justify each concept or just explain how to use it? Does each example have a discussion with it, explaining what was done at each step and why? After checking your text for explanations, survey the exercises. Do the problems help students understand the current lesson? Too little practice can leave your child confused and will result in repeated reteaching. Explaining the principles through related exercises are essential to fostering understanding.
"Paul, as his manner was...reasoned with them out of the scriptures" (Acts 17:2). It is essential that children learn to reason from the Scriptures as Paul did to defend the faith. Mathematics is an important tool in the curriculum for developing deductive reasoning skills. Geometry is a key course in this process. Be sure you use a geometry text which requires students to read and understand the proofs of theorems and to prove new theorems on their own. While doing proofs, students learn that they must have reasons for every statement and that reasons can be right or wrong just like statements. The same is true of algebra. Every step in the solution of an equation has a reason, such as the distributive law, the commutative law, or the addition property of equality. Children grow in their reasoning ability as they apply step-by-step reasoning in their daily math homework.
"If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (John 13:17). Jesus was not content that people merely knew the truth; He intended that they apply that truth to their lives. Application is also necessary in math. However, there must be a proper conceptual basis. Evaluate the applications in the textbook you teach from. When a text presents word problems that promote speeding, gambling, or other inappropriate activities, we immediately recognize an inappropriate application. On the other hand, is avoiding offensive problems sufficient? Look through the word problems in your text. Are many whimsical or surreal, appealing to the imagination? There is a place for imagination, but math is a real part of God's creation. Jesus set the example by using parables--true-to-life stories--to help His disciples see the applications of His doctrines. Word problems should avoid offensiveness and illustrate the usefulness of math in the real world of church, home, and business.
"Endure hardness, as a good soldier" (II Tim. 2:3). Mathematics is a discipline, and while the knowledge attained is enjoyable, the learning process is challenging. Do you and your text encourage your student to persevere in his math studies even when the concepts seem difficult? Diligence, study, and discipline will build the character your child needs to face challenges in other areas of his life.
Knowledge of God
"Casting down...every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (II Cor. 10:5). The Bible teaches that God is the source of math and illustrates the proper use of math. Your child needs to see that math and Scripture are consistent, and that math is subordinate to Scripture. If you and your textbook do not discuss these things, you leave the possibility open that math exists only in the mind of man, that man creates math on his own, and that math and Scripture present unrelated fields of knowledge. The world and the devil want us to think that the Bible is relevant only to religion. Christian home educators must take every opportunity to show their children that math reflects God.
What is your child learning? Rote memory of facts for the sole purpose of high schools on the college entrance tests should not be the primary goal. If you and your text fail to present the importance of math in developing Christ-likeness, perhaps it's time for some rethinking. Students often ask, "Why do we need math?" Do not miss the opportunity to show them the satisfying purposes for their study. Explain the importance of understanding God's order, developing reasoning ability, and relating math to his faith. Your discussions and your textbook are two key tools in this battle for Christian growth. Your child should grow in Christ-likeness through his math lessons. "Do all to the glory of God." (I Cor. 10:31).