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Parents can teach more than they think

March 28, 2010


Julie Lewis

March 26, 2010

I don’t think my parents had any idea the influence and education they provided me with our daily interactions as I grew up.

Many times I hear parent conferences start out with parents’ discounting the amount of help they can provide with advanced subjects. I know my parents uttered those same words at my parent-teacher conferences once I entered middle school.

Dad took Algebra I in college, and I took it in middle school. Mom took mathematics for secretaries and bookkeepers. Since they could not help me with my homework, I relied on tutors and help from my friends to get passing grades as I continued taking advanced math and science courses in middle and high school.

Years later, when I began teaching, I realized that my parents taught me a lot more than I gave them credit for. Being book smart is a great thing, but they taught me to make real-world connections to the advanced topics I was learning.

It wasn’t help with my homework, but the questions they asked me at the grocery store, in the car, at the gas station or even preparing for vacation or a weekend trip. I realized that the reason I didn’t have as much trouble with math concepts was because my parents taught me to use what I learned from tutors and in the classroom in real-life examples.

I never had problems with word problems that discussed ratios or proportions because my parents kept a little notepad in the glove box of our car, and every time we stopped for gas, I had to record the gas mileage and compare it with previous tanks.

Mom was a big bargain shopper, so when vegetables went on sale 4 for $1, we stocked up. Our shopping trips would consist of a walk down the canned goods aisle, where she would make me figure out how much money we saved by purchasing the vegetables on sale.

On car trips I learned that if I asked how long it would take, my dad would tell me we were traveling at an average of 50 mph and I had to figure out the time it would take based on the mileage signs posted on the side of the road. When it came time for vacation, I helped figure out how far we could travel in a day and what time we needed to be on the road. They never mentioned the topic of “elapsed time,” but that was certainly what they were teaching me.

Dad made me figure out the tip when the food bill came at a restaurant (it was 10 percent in those days), or figure out what I could order off the menu if my limit was $4 and I wanted a soda or a milkshake.

They asked all kinds of math questions to keep me on my toes:

“How long will it take?” “How wide is the window?” “How far is it?” “How much more will we need?” “How much will it cost?” “How much did we save?” “How many drinks will we need?”

In high school, I started working at a discount store. Computer scanners were new and were constantly going down, so many times we had to figure the sales total and tax by hand. I didn’t have trouble with this; I had always been expected to calculate the tax on my purchases before I was allowed to go to the register in the store.

I’ve shared my parents’ success story with parents of my students. I think it helps to know that, no matter how much formal education a person has, mundane things in our daily lives can provide teachable moments.

Julie Lewis is a math interventionist at Lamar Middle School in Irving and a Teacher Voices volunteer columnist. Her e-mail address is

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