Teaching math is one of the greatest ways to instill valuable goal-setting skills while ensuring academic success. Math provides the perfect opportunity for goal-setting lessons: its aims are realistic, obtainable, measurable and can be broken down into smaller goals or tasks. Developing goal-setting skills will help students learn how to manage their time, make better decisions and take ownership of their own academic progress.
Unfortunately, most students never learn goal-setting techniques until after they have left school. But this need not be the case. Young children can start off by setting small goals to learn simple math facts, just as they learned their ABCs. For many students, their first daunting academic goal might be memorizing the times tables. Older students can set goals to improve their grades, learn new concepts or even go back to strengthen mental math skills.
You want your child’s first serious goal-setting experience to be a successful one. Understanding the factors that contribute to goal achievement will help you ensure that success.
Well Defined Goals + Action Plan + Motivation + Commitment + Effort = SUCCESS
A well-defined goal is realistic, obtainable and has a time target for completion. You begin by specifying exactly what the goal is. For example, I want to memorize the times tables from 0-12 by the end of the month. If your goal is something broader, such as I’m going to get one grade higher on my next report card in March, you will need to break it down into smaller goals for each individual test and assignment.
The action plan is the steps you will take to achieve your goal. These are actions that you can control. For example, I’m going to practice math facts 15 minutes a day with Dad, or I’m going to complete the workbook from my multiplication program or I’m going to sing along to my times tables songs in the car every day.
Motivation comes from within. It stems from your beliefs, values and desires – what is important to you. If you really believe that a goal is important, you are going to work hard to attain it. Here is where the problem most often lies: math just doesn’t seem that important to most children. A parent or teacher needs to demonstrate that learning math is truly useful to them. Often we need to lend a hand by offering an external motivator – some sort of incentive. What would we do without stickers and certificates? But though acknowledgement is nice, over time they must learn to be self-motivated as well.
Another key component of motivation is believing in yourself. Have you every noticed that people who are successful continue to be successful? They believe they CAN DO IT – that nothing is impossible. Conversely, once you get down on yourself it’s hard to get back on track. I see this all the time with children learning math. “I’m no good at math; I’ll never be able to get it.” This is when a teacher or parent can help reverse the downward spiral. You need to be there to encourage them, provide support, help them break down the goal into manageable tasks that they CAN achieve. “Look, you’ve learned the three times tables already. Boy, that was quick! Hey, the sixes are just double that – do you want to try a couple?”
Commitment comes from being motivated and knowing exactly what you need to accomplish. For many children the most important factor for success is their commitment to learning. They need to take ownership of the goal – it just does not work as well if Mom says they have to. “It may be Mom’s goal for me to get an A in math, but it’s not mine!” said one child I met. I soon discovered that this girl loved music. We talked about how math is part of music, and how many musicians are mathematical. We talked about fractions and rhythm, pitch and the frequency of notes. We even played Pi on the piano. Math suddenly became a little more relevant to her own interests. The internal motivation this provided, combined with the external motivation of getting to go to a movie after studying a certain amount, allowed her to make a real effort with math.
Effort is the time and work you commit to your goal. Make sure your child has the time and tools to do the tasks outlined in the action plan. Designate a quiet workplace with minimal distractions. These days, we tend to overbook our children with so many activities that there is little room in their busy lives to fit in a new priority. Re-evaluate those priorities. The other thing to think about is gently reducing time spent on unproductive activities such as television, virtual pets and video games. I say gently – because you do not want a sudden removal to seem like a punishment. If you have not yet set house rules for these things, you may need to gradually implement them. Make them part of a family meeting, unrelated to the goal-setting process.
Here are some tips to ensure that your children will achieve their math goals:
- Teach them that math is important. Try as much as possible to relate it to their life. Find creative ways to instill an interest in math (music, books, crafts, online resources).
- Tell your children about goals you have set and met. Remember, you are their first and foremost role model.
- Find out what they need to accomplish in school. What is the curriculum requirement for the year? How is it taught? How will your child be assessed?
- Write out the goals together. Start with broader, long-term goals and work towards short-term, specific goals.
- Make sure that the short-term goal is not too difficult to achieve and is at an appropriate level for their ability. Remember, you want them to succeed.
- Set a deadline. A goal without a deadline is not a goal – it’s a dream. Write it down and post it where you can all see it frequently. Read it each night and again in the morning.
- Brainstorm together ways to achieve the goal. What steps will they take? Are they going to follow a book, work with a tutor or complete an online tutorial? Are there other skills they can learn that will help them achieve their goal? Perhaps they need to learn memorization techniques? Make this list very detailed. Turn it into an action plan with a timeline. Schedule these tasks into their daily routine.
- Avoid drill-and-kill! Try to find creative ways to practice math (music, card games, dice games, crafts). Involve your child as much as possible in creating math activities and games.
- Instill ownership of the goal. This is done by getting children involved from the start – writing out the goal, listing their action steps, planning their schedule, setting a deadline. You can even have them sign a contract! Draw up a checklist that they can check off themselves. Ensure further commitment by having them call up three people and tell them what their goal is.
- Set up a good learning environment, so that the time and effort spent is focused, quality time. Remove distractions that can impede progress.
- Supply an incentive for completing the goal (for example, to surprise Grandpa, a special dinner, a celebration cake, a certificate).
- Get the whole family involved! Each child can have a different goal. Mom and Dad can pick something to learn as well.
- Be flexible in adapting your children’s goals to their progress. If something isn’t working, re-evaluate your strategy. Was the goal too difficult? Have external influences hindered progress? How can they get back on track?
- Make the first math challenge rewarding, to encourage further goal-setting activities. Praise your children and celebrate their achievements. Show your enthusiasm and willingness to work together to achieve their math goal. Cheer them on! This is how they will develop lifelong learning skills. You want them continue a successful pattern of setting and achieving goals.
- Here’s my most important tip… Make it fun, and they will learn! Math truly can be fun. At home you have a chance to share through puzzles and games the logic and beauty of mathematics.
Take some MATHemACTION this New Year by helping your child set a math goal. You will find working with your children on this to be a wonderful opportunity to spend time together and assess their number sense. As a parent, you have the chance to discover more about your child’s learning style and to help make learning enjoyable.
Visit our website for more ideas on goal setting and exciting ways to inspire math. Join our Math Facts Challenge to commit to your goal.
Susan Jarema is the founder of Googol Learning and the Crazy 4 Math Contest. The Learning with Googol Power Website has many free resources to inspire mathematics and family learning in your home through music, games, stories and layered learning. Visit www.googolpower.com for more information on workshops, presentations, the award-winning Googol Power Math Series and Discovery Multiplication Program.