Most parents aren’t professional mathematicians. But there are a few. This is the second in a series of interviews with mathematician parents with the goal of helping parents integrate math teaching into parenting.
I had the privilege of interviewing Caroline Mukisa, a math teacher and publisher of Maths Insider, a website with regularly updated free content for math teachers and parents.
MathFour: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Caroline. First, what’s your degree and career? And how long have you been in math?
I’ve a Bachelors in Civil Engineering from Imperial College, University of London and a Post Graduate Certificate in Maths Education from Cambridge University. I taught maths to high school students in the UK, and I also ran a Kumon tuition centre before moving to the Middle East as an expat. I now run the Maths Insider website. My husband has a Bachelors in Maths also from Imperial and a Masters in Mathematical Modeling from Oxford University.
MathFour: Tell me about your family – how many kids do you have and how old are they? Are any of them more or less interested in math than the others?
Caroline: I’ve got four kids aged 11, 10, 4 and 2. My 10 year old son is very much the maths boffin, he’s memorized the first 300 digits of pi just for fun. His 11 year old sister is more of a problem solver. The younger two like counting and sorting but it’s too early to say if they’ve caught the maths bug yet!
MathFour: Do you have any worries about your children academically? In particular, do you think they will do better in math than in other subjects because of your influence?
Caroline: With maths, being a former maths teacher, I have a feel of how they’re each doing with that subject, whereas with the other subjects, it’s difficult to judge. For example, “Is that poem they wrote good for their age level?”
MathFour: How do you play with your kids? In particular, what kind of math play do you do compared with non-math play?
Caroline: We talk a lot about maths, we like showing them You Tube videos or Ted Talks related to maths or science, but we also try to expose them to different things like poetry, anthropology, and business.
MathFour: Do you think you speak with your children or behave differently than other parents because you have a math background?
Caroline: I’m not sure about that. I don’t talk about maths with my kids in front of other parents – I don’t want to appear to be “showing off” although my 10 yr old likes to “perform maths.”
Caroline: Of course! There’s always days when maths homework is not appreciated, and although my 11 year old finds maths easy, I wouldn’t say she loves it – she likes that maths can help her do the things she likes, like Design and Technology and Science. It’s not a problem – kids shouldn’t be carbon copies of their parents.
MathFour: How is the interaction with your children’s math teachers?
Caroline: I usually let my kids teachers know early on about my and my husband’s maths background. We try to work with the kids teachers to help extend their maths but in the end we can supplement and support their maths ourselves at home.
MathFour: Now to change direction a little to a more worldview of math. What do you see as the biggest challenge in math education today?
Caroline: With the move away from rote learning towards practical maths, kids mental maths skills are declining. Parents need to make sure that they’re reinforcing those skills at home, since there’s not enough time allocated to fully learning them within the curriculum.
MathFour: What do you see great happening in the world of math education?
Caroline: I love that kids get to explore different practical applications of maths, with many teachers, using technology to present real-life math problems.
MathFour: What advice can you give to non-mathematician parents that might help them raise their kids to like and appreciate math.
Caroline: I think the key things are to stay positive about maths even if you hate it, try to spot something related to maths as often as you can. If your child is having problems with maths, act early and make sure their basic skills are solid. And of course, read MathFour and Maths Insider!
MathFour: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Caroline!
How about you? Do you have any questions for a mathematician parent? Share them in the comments – I’ll bet Caroline will be around to answer them!
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