Fall 2019 / Math Spotlight with Homeschool Mom Lisha Thigpen

NCHE: Lisha, thank you for sharing wisdom with our members.  You have a background in math. Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

I have been married to my husband for twenty-two years.  Our kids are fifteen, thirteen, twelve, and four. I love to teach. Teenagers are my favorite age group. Helping out in the youth group at my church is my favorite place of service. I currently teach in a local co-op (science). I also teach two upper level math classes from my home during the school year. English is my second language. Math is my first.

NCHE: So were all of your children born just automatically wanting to know more about Fibonacci and the order of operations?

My three older kids were math haters most of the way. They are slowly coming around and no longer name it as the worst subject ever. I had to come up with a different strategy for the youngest, so I declared the kids could not teach her the alphabet until she was able to count to twenty! Of course I’m kidding, but so far she loves math!

NCHE: Why does math scare so many parents?

Math is the one subject that so many people wrongly believe you either get or you don’t. They don’t see a middle ground. I think that maybe they either had a bad teacher or two along the way or hold negative ideas about math for some reason (maybe both). As with so many other things, we fear what we don’t understand. 

NCHE: Is math anxiety real or a misconception?

It is real—I have seen it.  I think math anxiety is rooted in negative beliefs. “I can’t do it” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You must be able to see it in the world around you. Math is the subject that takes repeated practice; it is a foreign language. You can’t just learn a set of static vocabulary terms and expect to be fluent. Immersion is the best source of acquisition. 

NCHE: What is the advice about math that you most often give homeschooling parents?

Grades K-6 have many opportunities to learn basic skills.  It is OK to spend two years in the third-grade math book if multiplication is hard. Go slower, play lots of hands-on games, and give them real life experiences using the math. Then it will become second nature—like riding a bicycle. Even if they don’t use it for a while, it will come back with just a little practice if it is grounded in real application. Fourth grade math is basically the same skills with bigger numbers. Just go through the book and practice the new skills. Make sure the basics are solid (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing) before you move on to new concepts. You don’t have to do every problem or every lesson. If your child has multiplication down pat, then move on and spend more time on something else. You have the freedom to move at their pace!

NCHE: So many people say, “I am never going to use this in everyday life!” Math folks like yourself would say, “Oh yes we do!” How do average people use math every day—without maybe realizing it?

  • Grocery shopping teaches us about unit rates. Check out the price label under the shelved items at the grocery store. That little number in the bottom corner is the price per pound, per ounce, per sheet, or roll. 
  • Want to channel your inner Joanna Gaines? Start moving furniture! Use graph paper to figure out if it will fit into your space. That’s a lesson in area!
  • When I first got married, I had tons of recipes that served 6 or 8. I had to figure out how to cut them back. That is easy when it is a whole number divisible by 2, but what about that 2/3 cup of milk that needs to be divided by 4? What do you do when you do divide it correctly and the final amount is 1/6 cup? That is not marked on the measuring cup! Now that our family has grown, I find myself doubling some of those original recipes to satisfy all the appetites and to have some leftovers. Either way, baking is the best way to learn about dividing, multiplying, and those pesky fractions.
  • Ready to up the ante? Let’s talk about car loans, mortgages, credit cards, stocks and CDs: Your monthly payment is calculated by a formula taught in algebra II.  Have you ever played with the loan calculator to see what would happen if you paid $X more each month? That’s called compound interest. See? It really is fun to play with.

NCHE: Even if math is never going to be something little Johnny picks up quickly or easily, why is it imperative that parents make sure Johnny learns math basics (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and algebra) anyway?

Even if Johnny struggles, that struggle will produce many other qualities that will benefit him in life—mainly diligence to keep trying hard things until you get it. Most of us are not born with this trait. Our tendency many times is to just give up in the face of adversity. Struggle is not the same as failure, though, and many folks wrongly equate them. 

In some cultures, the teacher calls on the student who does not know how to do the problem to show his work on the board. The student is not embarrassed. He knows he will glean much help from his classmates as he figures out where he went wrong. The attitude is different—and it’s great! The journey (work-struggle) through the problem is just as important as the destination (getting the correct answer).

NCHE: How can a parent teach math to high schoolers if the parent is weak in math?

If possible, learn with them. Discover and struggle together. Pick any textbook. Type the topic into Youtube and you will get many teaching videos that you can watch together. KhanAcademy.org is a free resource I recommend. Another way is to find a friend and exchange talents. Throw it out there!  It’s okay to say, “I will teach math with you and your family if you will teach another subject to our family.” This works great—especially for those students who are less confident.

I recently saw an algebra II textbook that teaches pretty advanced concepts from a financial perspective that prepares students for real life. I haven’t used it, but I know about it—which brings me to my next point: ask for help. Go to your local support group, join a Facebook discussion. Remember how many questions you asked when you first decided to homeschool and felt so unprepared? You got your kids through that first year, and you can get them through the last.

Math is the language of the universe.  ~Galileo

I am a wife, mom, and educator who loves teenagers. My husband and I have been involved in youth ministry since we got married twenty-two years ago.