As parents and children work together to solve math problems, they need to discuss math concepts using math words or vocabulary. If either parent or child has a confusion about math words, *odds* are the discussion will **spiral** into an argument. Many math vocabulary words having *multiple* meanings. There is the everyday meaning and a precise mathematical meaning.

In an average household, in the Parkr *area*, parents help their children with math homework multiple times per week. Often the homework session *reduces* the quality of the *relationship* between the parent and child. The frustration may be the *result* of a *combination* of *factors*. A *fraction* of concerned parents will read our article, “Stop the Tears, Arguments & Whining During Math Homework” for help.

**Math Vocabulary Words with Multiple Meanings**

Using mathematical vocabulary with multiple meanings requires parents and children to engage in a complex linguistic skill known as “code switching.” Code switching is using two languages within one conversation. Code switching happens in bilingual households when someone inserts a phrase from one language in the midst of a conversation happening in a different language. When it comes to math discussions this happens even in households where English is a first language. In this case, the two languages are the language of math versus the language of everyday English. The problem with code switching occurs when not everyone in the conversation is aware it is happening. This often happens when the child is unclear about mathematical meaning of a word.

**How Words Differ in a Mathematical Context**

Math words and vocabulary terms have precise definitions to describe numerical relationships. Sometimes the mathematical definition is similar to the everyday usage and sometimes the mathematical definition is quite different. Look at the *bold, italicized *math words used in the first two paragraphs. The words “multiple,” “area,” “pair,” “combinations, ”and “odds” have similar meanings in everyday usage as they do in math. This may trick the parent or the child into believing they are using the term in the same way. It is entirely possible one is using the word with a precise mathematical definition and the other is using the term colloquially. Often the parent or child does not even realize there is a precise mathematical definition. They are unaware the code switching is occurring.

Consider the following conversation as a prime example of this possible confusion, using the word “average”.

Child: “I have to find the average price for soda. The prices are $1, $1.50, 1.50, $3 and $1.25, $2.00. My answer key says, $1.70. To me it looks like the answer is $1.50. Two sodas cost $1.50 and there are two cheaper and two more expensive. There isn’t even one soda that costs $1.70!”

The child is thinking the word “average” means “typical” or “common.” If the parent rushes in to explain how the kid did it all wrong without first explaining the mathematical definition of “average” – the sum of all numbers divided by the quantity of numbers - it will only serve to frustrate the child. Some math books use the term “arithmetic mean” instead of the word “average.” “Arithmetic mean” would probably cause the parent to be confused too.

**Generational Differences using Math Vocabulary**

Math instruction is changing to reflect new standards. See our article describing these shifts. As the instruction model changes, math vocabulary shifts to describe the concepts, tools, and methods currently being used. Often parents get confused when their children are using unfamiliar terms and vocabulary. Consider the following scenario showing confusion over changing vocabulary and methods.

Elliot tells his dad he has to add fractions for homework. He needs help and his dad remembers that to add fractions the denominator has to be the same. Elliot says “Yeah, my teacher says I have to make a factor tree to find the least common multiple or LCM.”

The father shrugs and asks, “What is a factor tree and least common multiple?” The kid tries to explain it but he doesn’t explain it well because he doesn’t understand the concept well. The dad sees Elliot struggle and says, “When I was in school I used multiples to find the lowest common denominator and then added fractions. Let me show you my way.”

The father and son struggle to communicate and get frustrated with each other. After a while they realize they are both describing similar ideas and methods and that both methods worked fine. The dad walks away thinking “I don’t get this newfangled math my son is learning.” The son walks away thinking, “Why can’t my dad just help me with my math without turning it into a big ordeal?” It doesn't have to be this way!

**Tips for Deciphering Math Vocabulary Words during Homework Time**

**1. Ask your child to define the math word**s. The child can draw a picture or use words, but the definition should be mathematically precise and developmentally appropriate. Suppose you ask your second grade to define subtraction. Young children have the basic understanding that subtraction decreases the quantity. Your young child may define subtraction like “when you subtract you are taking stuff away and the answer is smaller than the first number.” You do not need to correct them with a lesson about subtracting negative numbers. Save that for a lesson a few years from now.

**2. Make sure you understand all the vocabulary yourself. **Nothing is more frustrating to a child than having a parent who refuses to use the same terminology as their teachers and math books. If you are struggling to learn the current math vocabulary words, give us a call at Mathnasium. We stay up to date with the latest methods and vocabulary.

**3. Acknowledge code switching and multiple meanings. **We use words with multiple meanings frequently without problem. As long as everyone understands the context, there is very little confusion. When adults ask for the area code for a phone number, they rarely get confused with the idea of a code indicating length times height (area). However, children and second language learners have a harder time with this. Be very explicit about the definition you are using when discussing math.

**Mathnasium Instructors are Available to Help**

Sometimes parents struggle to help children with math because of a misunderstanding of vocabulary. Other times parents suffer with their own math anxiety. You don’t want personal relationships to suffer because of math homework. Helping your child with math is a huge task. You have to have time and patience. At Mathnasium of Parker we have time, patience, and knowledge. Our students love coming to our center.

Call us 303-840-1184. We are here to help.

This article was written by and owned by Cuttlefish Copywriting. It is copyright protected. Mathnasium of Parker has permission to use it. Other Mathnasium locations should contact Heather at [email protected] before using it.