Give math a chance; encourage students to learn

What was your least favorite subject in school? Almost four in 10 adults responding to a recent AP-AOL News poll identified math as their least favorite subject. That's unfortunate.

But what's worse is that we may be passing our aversion to math on down to our children. Fewer than half of 2005 high school graduates who took the ACT college admissions test are ready for first year college algebra classes.

The lack of math and science skills in our students has business leaders concerned about where they will find future employees. This summer, 15 national business organizations, led by the Business Roundtable, began a campaign to improve math and science education in America.

A major concern is a declining interest in careers that require math and science training. That decline is evident with ACT test-takers. Over the past 10 years, among students who responded to a question about their plans for a college major, fewer students each year expressed interest in engineering and related technical fields.

What can you do to encourage your teenagers, and even younger children, to give math a chance? Show them why they need it. Have your young children measure ingredients when you're making cookies. It's a great way to understand the practical application of fractions.

As they get older, have them help figure the grocery bill as you shop. Then when they're old enough, have them set up a savings account to learn about interest and the value of compounding interest. It can be hard for students to see why the equation full of X's and Y's on the blackboard will matter to them in "real life."

When I was sitting through my high school trigonometry class, I certainly had no idea that I would need to know as much about math as I have during my career.

You can also raise your student's interest in science. When you work on your next do-it-yourself home project, include your teenager. Seeing the physics of how a deck is built, the chemistry in how a paint solvent works, or the life cycle of seeds that become flowers and vegetables can help them realize how science works in their lives.

Even if math and science aren't your strong suit, you can look to your local science, natural history or children's museum. Many offer classes that allow kids to get a hands-on look at Earth science, geology and more.

When my kids were younger they spent many Saturday mornings at the science center. Some school districts and libraries offer similar programs, especially over the summer. Years later they talked about the fun they had (and the science principles they learned) solving a "murder" at the science center.

Parents can also keep tabs on what's going on inside the math and science classes at school. Misunderstanding just one concept can frustrate students and keep them from understanding the next lesson. Encourage your student to get extra help at school, if needed. Many teachers set aside time at lunch or after school for help sessions.

A teenager I know spent the first few weeks of high school confused and frustrated in algebra. She told me that her teacher just didn't explain things in a way she could understand. Out of embarrassment, she refused to go after school for help for nearly a month. When her mother finally convinced her to get the extra tutoring, she was able to grasp the concepts in just a few weeks, and pulled her grade up from a C to an A-minus by the end of the grading period.

Math and science are crucial to many of the fastest-growing jobs. Many jobs in healthcare, for example, require a lot of math and science. Computer programming and information technology jobs require a very high level of math and science.

Parents, show your children the importance of math and science from an early age. Then, keep working with your teenagers as they get to high school and choose their courses. Continuing in math and science can open up many more career choices for them down the road.

n Rose Rennekamp is the vice-president of communications for ACT. She is a mom and has a master's of education in guidance and counseling. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send an e-mail to


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