Music adds such a level on enjoyment and creativity to life.  As the Choir Director at Mad River Middle School, Tiffany Hesselbart sees this firsthand.  In this field, it is essential for Tiffany and her students to understand basic math.  Although math skills cannot give you a better singing voice, it may help those who already sound beautiful when they sing!

Can you explain what you do for a living? 

I teach seventh-grade choir. I have approximately 140 students split between 4 classes.

When do you use basic math in your job?

Math is very important in music so we use it every day. We talk about the number of beats in each measure. We talk about the values of different types of notes and rests. For example, I may ask the class what the value of a quarter note is, and when they say one beat, I ask them what happens to the note if it has a dot on it.  They have to know that a dot equals half of the value of the no, and that it would then equal one and one half beats. In addition, we talk about how two eighth notes equal one quarter note, two quarter notes equal one half note, and two half notes equal one whole note.

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math?

Our math is basic fractional math that does not require a calculator.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

Math and music go hand in hand. I explain to students every day that they need to understand fractions in order to understand music. If I could not explain that to students, then they would not understand many aspects of music. So it not only helps me do my job better, it is absolutely essential.

How comfortable with math do you feel? 

I am comfortable with math that I use every day, but math is not my strong suit.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I took algebra 1 and 2 in high school.  Also, I took geometry. I think that I was good at it them because I was in accelerated math. However, when I took math in college, I realized I was not as good at it as I had originally thought.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job?

No, the math I use daily is basic math that middle schoolers can understand so that I can meet my teaching and learning goals with them.

So, when Tiffany’s students utilize their basic math skills in choir, I bet it is music to her ears.  If you have questions for Tiffany, send them my way, and I will be happy to send them to her!

Photo Credit: Brandon Giesbrecht via Compfight cc

Parents: when it’s time for math homework, do you suddenly have something else to do? When it’s parent-teacher conference time, do you first tell the teacher that you’re no good at math yourself?

First off, you’re not alone. It’s the number one thing I hear from parents: “I don’t know how to help my kid with math!” So I asked one of my favorite math teachers, Tiffany Choice. As an elementary and middle school teacher, Ms. Choice is a math education expert. And because of that, we instantly connected. Oh, she was also my daughter’s fourth grade teacher.

I asked Ms. Choice to share her best advice for parents. Want to help your kid succeed at math? Here’s how.

Just because you struggled in math class doesn’t mean your kid will.

Don’t pass on your dislike or acceptance of not being “good at math.” Always highlight the importance of math. If you cannot provide math homework support, find someone who can. Even if your kid has to call an uncle across country to try help clarify a problem, it goes a long way.

Math is best understood when applied to the real world.

Show your kids how you use dollars and coins at the store. Encourage understanding when they use birthday money to buy things. Discourage them from throwing the wad of money on the counter without understanding what they are doing. Explain to your child what you are doing when balancing that checkbook, measuring a wall or following a recipe. You are your child’s first teacher.

How you were taught to do something in math may or may not be the best way.

Education is swiftly changing to keep up with technology and each generation. Be open to many new ways of learning math concepts. Ask your child’s teacher to show you how a concept is being presented. I’ve had parents stop in during math instruction or for an after school conference.

Math isn’t learned right after the first lesson.

Parents should emphasize and allot time for practice — just like we encourage practicing the piano, ballet, reading, soccer, or French.

Realize the importance of and reinforce math vocabulary.

Math isn’t just numbers, it’s words too. Talk about what 20% off really means when they’re asking for that new toy. Use the words “total,” “difference,” and even “mixed number.” Believe it or not, truly knowing what those math words mean helps in the long run. I hate to mention standardized tests, but it’s something that’s here to stay (at least for now). More and more, math tests are transforming into reading tests.  Most of the questions are word problems. Certain understanding of math vocabulary can and will help your child avoid the sneaky test-makers tricks.

I’ll add one more thing: Encourage your child to explain their reasoning behind the math they’re doing — whether you’re helping with homework or asking him to divy up candy pieces at a play date. One of the biggest things that kids are being asked to do is write about math. (In my daughter’s school, these are called BCRs or Brief Constructed Response and ECR or Extended Constructed Response.) The kids who already verbalize their understanding of math will have an easier time with these tasks.

Do you have advice for parents? Whether you’re a teacher, parent or innocent bystander share your ideas in the comments section. Have a question? Share that, too!

Photo courtesy of .raindrops.

Every so often, at around 7:00 p.m., I’ll get a call from someone I know.  “I don’t understand my kid’s math homework,” they’ll say.

These folks aren’t dumb or bad at math.  But almost always, they’ve hit a concept that they used to know, but don’t remember any more.  And those things can trip them up — big time. So, I thought it might be helpful to review 4 middle school math facts that may give parents trouble.

Every number has two square roots.

This is the question that prompted this blog post.  I got a call from a friend who didn’t understand this question in her daughter’s math homework: “Find both square roots of 25.”  Both?

Most adults have probably forgotten that each number has two square roots. That’s because we are typically only interested in only one of them — the positive one.

Yep, the square roots of 25 are 5 and -5.  In other words:

[pmath]sqrt{25}[/pmath] = 5 and -5

It should be pretty easy to see why this is true.  (You just have to remember that when you multiply two negative numbers, your answer is positive.)

5 · 5 = 25

-5 · -5 = 25

1 is not prime.

This question came up in my own daughter’s homework last week — a review of prime and composite numbers.  Remember, prime numbers have only two factors, 1 and the number itself.  So, 7 is prime.  And so are 13, 19 and even 3.  But what about 1?

Well, it turns out the definition of a prime number is a little more complicated than what we may assume.  And I’m not even going to get into that here.

But there is a way for less-geeky folks to remember that 1 is not prime. Let’s look at the factors of each of the prime numbers we listed above:

7: 1, 7

13: 1, 13

19: 1, 19

3: 1, 3

Now, what about the factors of 1?

1: 1

Notice the difference?  Prime numbers have two factors, 1 and the number itself.  But 1 only has one factor.

0 is an even number.

This idea seems to trip up teachers, students and parents.  That’s because we tend to depend on this definition of even: A number is even, if it is evenly divisible by 2.  How can you divide 0 into two equal parts?

It might help to think of the multiplication facts for 2:

2 x 0 = 0

2 x 1 = 2

2 x 2 = 4

2 x 3 = 6 …

All of the multiples of 2 are even, and as you can see from this list, 0 is a multiple of 2.

Anything divided by 0 is undefined.

Okay, this gets a little complex, so bear with me.  (Of course, if you want, you can just memorize this rule and be done with it.)

First, we can describe division like this:


Using a little bit of algebra you can get this:

r · b = a

So, what if = 0?

r · 0 = a

That only works if is also 0, and 0 ÷ 0 gives us all kinds of other problems.  (Trust me on that.  This is where things get pretty darned complicated!)

So how many of you have thought while reading this, “I will never use this stuff, so what’s the point?” You may be right.  Knowing that 0 is an even number is probably not such a big deal.  But at least your kid will think you’re extra smart, when you can help him with his math homework.

What are your math questions?  Is there anything that’s been bugging you for ages that you still can’t figure out?  Ask your questions in the comments section.  I’ll answer some here and create entire posts out of others.