Mathematician Parent: John Golden

Most parents aren’t professional mathematicians. But there are a few. This is the third 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 John Golden, a university math professor and publisher of Math Hombre, a website with clever and fun math content that’s new every week!

Just a sample: “As a bad beginning teacher, emulating David Letterman of all people, I realized that I loved teaching math.”

MathFour: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions, John. First, what’s your degree and career? And how long have you been in math?

John: I have a PhD math in 1996, and am working as math ed faculty at GVSU a 25000 student public university in Michigan.

MathFour: Tell us about your children and how they feel about math.

John: Xavier – 11, a bit more positive about math than his sister, Ysabela – 12. Neither loves it.

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?

John: They’re both decent problem solvers, but that doesn’t necessarily equip them to do school mathematics. Ysabela, for example, found out this year she wasn’t allowed to use her method to divide and had to use the standard algorithm.

We encourage them to follow their passions. Both are quite artistic, and Ysabela is an amazing reader. I do worry that I’ve emphasized understanding over grades to the point where they have no interest in academic success.

MathFour: How do you play with your kids? Do you play math things?

John: Lots of games: card, board, table. No video games other than some flash games on the computer. I love games for their math like nature, or math for its game-like nature, so I see it as connected.

MathFour: Do you think you speak with your children or behave differently than other parents because you have a math background?

John: Definitely. Distinguish between what they’re asked to do and what math is, talk about cool and interesting math connections, do think alouds when doing homework, etc.

MathFour: Have you ever had any of your children express negative thoughts about math and how did you handle it?

John: More than occasionally. I take it with a grain of salt because I hated math at this age, too – for being boring and repetitive. I talk about the importance or confirm the irrelevance of what they’re doing, and try to emphasize making sense, and help them make sense.

MathFour: Have you ever disagreed with one of your children’s math teachers?

John: I always volunteer in their classrooms and bring games and such into it. This year, my daughter’s middle school classroom didn’t have me until the end of the year to do algebra tiles, but that was a positive experience. I strongly respect teachers, whether I agree or disagree, and never feel like they’re doing anything other than what they think is best.

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?

John: Irrelevance of school mathematics, anti-math culture, misunderstanding of what math is, professional/governmental insistence on teaching junk, high stakes tests that preserve bad pedagogy…

MathFour: Wow, that’s a lot. So what do you see great happening in the world of math education?

John: Internet networking, slow but growing awareness among new math teachers about better ways, leveraging of new technologies and opportunities for change because of bad test results.

MathFour: What advice can you give to non-mathematician parents that might help them raise their kids to like and appreciate math.

John: Give it a go themselves. If it didn’t the first time, try to make sense of it along with your kids if they learn it. Value thinking and communication over the right answer. Play games!

MathFour: Thanks so much, John! Great tips and insight.

How about you? What are some questions you have for a mathematician parent? Share them in the comments – I’ll try to get John in here to answer them.

If you want to connect with John directly, get with him on twitter, find his contact information here and make sure to check out his site, Math Hombre!

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