Return to Headlines

Weekly Message 6/25/20 Facebook Live with Ms. Rice

 Facebook Live Transcript from Ms. Rice 6.25.20

FB Live Screenshot Ms. Rice

Middle School Math – How Can Parents Help?


Introductions:  My name is Blair Rice. 

  •     4th year at Moore Square Magnet Middle
  •     13th year teaching 
  •     3 degrees from NCSU
  •     Veteran
  •     3 adult children who attended WCPSS and NCSSM


I will review some basic ideas about math education, how you can help your child be successful in a middle school math class, and provide you with some information related to 6th grade math specifically 


Basic Ideas about Math and Math Education


  1.       First and foremost – What is math?  Why do we study it? Why is it important?


            What is math?


  •     Math is a tool or a field of study – your choice – that helps people find patterns to solve problems.  Math is not confined to numbers or shapes. When you are doing math, this is what you do whether you are a kindergartener or a 65-year old mathematician:


  •     Why is this definition important? It is important because most people have a limited view of what math is.  They think, well, I’m not going to be an engineer or an accountant, so why does learning math matter?  Patterns and mathematical thinking are the basis for many jobs including these:

o   Lawyer

o   Nurse/Doctor/Physician’s Assistant

o   Psychologist

o   Detective, Criminologist

o   Generals/Admirals in war

o   Artists – musicians (Brian May from Queen is also a mathematician) visual artists (Esher, anyone?) designers (Vera Wang, Calvin Klein), dancers…etc.

o   Small business owners

o   Advertising and marketing personnel 

o   Human Resource personnel

o   Farmers and agribusiness personnel

o   Scientists

o   Researchers of anything from science or social science.

o   Economists

o   Technical Writers

o   Project or Program Managers

o   Inventors

o   Computer Programmers/Website Designers/Game Designer




Why Do We Study Math?


  •     And then there’s the person who says, “I am not interested in these jobs.”  It turns out that even if you have an occupation which is very far removed from mathematics, knowing math has an impact upon on your salary. This is on the first page of my website:  Research studies have established that the more math classes students take, the higher their earnings 10 years later, with advanced math courses predicting an increase in salary as high as 19.5% ten years after high school. Research has also found that students who take advanced math classes learn ways of working & thinking – especially learning to reason and be logical – that make them more productive in their jobs. Students taking advanced math learn how to approach mathematical situations, so that once they are employed they are promoted to more demanding and more highly paid positions than those who do not take math to advanced levels (Rose & Betts, 2004).

o   Check these out:


  •     Most, if not all, of our 6th graders will require some additional schooling or professional development beyond high school.  Today, with the increasing costs of 4-year-degree colleges, many students make the choice to attend a community college, obtain an associate’s degree, and then transfer to a 4-year college or university.  Math success in K-12 is associated with completion of associate degree programs. 





  1.       The Right mindset?  Fixed versus Growth Mindset


  •     If your child has attended any WCPSS school, he or she has likely heard of Fixed vs. Growth Mindset. This is huge in the world of education.  Both Carol Dweck, the author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” and neurologists have made some discoveries fairly recently that has changed our thinking about both success and the brain. 

o   I show this to kids in all my classes to illustrate this:


  •     It turns out that people who have been successful were not born with talents and academic knowledge – they worked hard to achieve in their fields, made mistakes, and didn’t give up.


  •     In the past and even currently, many Americans believe people were born with talents and we have a limited or a fixed mindset as to what we can do. This I hope will change because this idea is not based upon research.  Our brains have plasticity – they can grow when students, parents, ANYONE practices, makes mistakes, learns from mistakes, and has a belief that they will achieve because THEY can with perseverance. Brain differences present at birth are eclipsed by the learning experiences we have from birth onward (Wexler in Thompson 2014).


  •     Nature?  Give it up.  Nurture won! 


  •     For more reading:  I had to read the original research behind this finding. I will not recommend it unless you need a guide to put yourself to sleep!  I believe all of these resources are available through the WCPL system. 


o   Carol Dweck, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”

o   Angela Duckworth, “Grit:  The Power of Passion and Perserverance”

o   Malcolm Gladwell, “Outliers”

o   Jo Boaler, “Mathematical Mindsets”


  1.       Math is math.  Why did they change math?


  •     I love this.  From the Incredibles 2:
  •     You are not laughing, perhaps.  Why did they change math INSTRUCTION? 
  •     Let me pose this question to you, “If something doesn’t work, should it continue?” 
  •     According to A Nation at Risk (1983): “Between 1975 and 1980, remedial mathematics courses in public 4-year colleges increased by 72 percent and now constitute one-quarter of all mathematics courses taught in those institutions.”  
  •     Math can be taught using 3 different philosophies or methodologies

o   Conceptual Understanding

o   Procedural Fluency

o   Project-based learning.

  •     Prior to the implementation of the Common Core Standards, could you tell me why the area of a triangle is A = ½ bh or A is bh/2.  Oh, and why is dividing by 2 the same thing as multiplying by a ½. It turns out that learning the “WHYS” behind our math is a motivator.  If you have a conceptual understanding of what you are doing, you don’t need to memorize a lot of procedures. You can also use this understanding to help you with different areas of math.  Students in elementary school learn to decompose numbers. Well, you can decompose shapes too.  Look at everything in your line of vision. Can’t you decompose every 2 and 3 dimensional shapes into “known” 2D and 3D shapes?  Powerful, huh?  
  •     This is not to say that procedural fluency is not necessary. Once students understand the whys of a math concept, they may be ready to learn procedures, so their math work is more efficient. 
  •     Project-based learning is providing students with an opportunity to use their math knowledge to complete a project typically combining many objectives. 
  1.       Moore Square Middle Model and Equity


  •     We know about growth mindset.  Jo Boaler, mathematics education professor at Stanford University, states that 95% of ALL students can learn math at high levels. Growth mindset!


  •     We know that tracking – placing kids in ability groups in different classes – is not an effective math practice. Even in the 1970s, we had data that suggested that placing kids of low achievement levels in classes with other kids of that same ability, does nothing to improve and actually hinders academic achievement.


  •     We also know that students who take Math 1 (that’s Algebra 1 from when you were a child) by at least 8th grade is a predictor of high school/college success. 


  •     Rising 6th graders who come into Moore Square have been placed into one of four classes by their 5th grade teachers:


o               6th grade math

o               6th +  (All of the 6th grade standards + half of the 7th grade standards)

o               Compacted 6+/7+ (All 6th, 7th, and half of the 8th grade standards)

o               7+ (single subject acceleration) 


  •     These placements are determined by students’ 4th grade EOG scores.  While 4th grade EOG scores are somewhat predictive of future success in math classes, those scores are old.  Students who didn’t perform well when they are 9 years old in 4th grade, are often recommended for 6th grade math and will not be afforded the opportunity to take Math 1 as an 8th grader (based upon the progression of middle school math classes).  That’s not fair. Often students’ abilities, work habits, and participation in 5th grade are not considered in this placement. Guess what is else is often considered in this decision?


o               Fifth grade teacher relationships with students/parents

o               Socio-economic status

o               Fifth grade teacher understandings of 6th grade math offerings

o               Race

o               Gender

o               Whether or not a child will have help from parents, REGARDLESS of the student’s             achievement.


  •     We at Moore Square do not want to deny any student the ability to go to Math 1 by at least 8thgrade.  Now, some kids may not be ready for Math 1. As rising 8th graders, students and their families can make decisions as to what math they want to take. We just don’t think that this decision should be made on a test a student took when she was 9 years old; therefore, we do not offer 6th grade math as an option at MSMM. We have analyzed our EOG scores over the past few years and have determined this model has been successful. 



  1.       Relationships Matter!


            We have all seen “Dead Poet’s Society” as teachers, and we want to be that amazing teacher portrayed by Robin Williams for your students. The dynamic Williams’ character had with his students had to develop over time. In a 2-hour movie, that can be 5 minutes. In real time, it takes weeks or a month to establish a relationship.  Relationships can make a HUGE difference in student achievement, but they need to be authentic.  As with any relationship, there will be some ups and downs and growth.  When there are problems – and problems may arise – such is life – parents, teachers and students can work together to repair or improve relationships. 

            I do believe, and most teachers believe that parent and teacher relationships are also very, very important for student success. Together we can move mountains. Alone, it cannot be done. We may not always agree, but if we keep children’s best interests in the forefront of every discussion or interaction, positive change will come.



How to be Successful in a Math Class


  1.     Be there.


            Attendance is important. Everyone gets sick, and sick children should not come to school; however, many students are absent for other reasons. Please schedule vacations during track-outs or the two months students have off in the summer. I have noticed that students who miss class frequently do not “grow” as much on their EOGs. I noticed 2 years ago that many students who were also checked out early also failed to achieve growth on their EOGs. Many if not most of these kids had a lot of absences in previous grades too. 


(What does “grow” mean, Mrs. Rice?   We want all kids to be proficient on their EOGs. Proficiency means students have achieved a 3, 4 or 5 on their EOGs.  However, not everyone is there yet.  Perhaps a student has a tough year in 5th grade, but works hard in 6th grade. They may “grow” their EOG score from a 15th percentile to a 30th percentile. That’s going in the right direction.)



  1.     Be mindful of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 


            According to Maslow, certain needs need to be met before  learning can occur.  Parents and teachers should work together to support the needs of students.


            Physical:  I will not tell you how to feed your child, but I will say that doughnuts or PopTarts every morning will not provide your growing child with the nutrition she needs to succeed in the classroom.  Yes, I can be a hypocrite because I hand out candy to kids as a reward on occasion.  One Starburst square, on the other hand, won’t ruin your child’s diet if he is eating a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. This can really help with absenteeism too. A more nutritious diet will keep your child well and strong. Students need to be well-hydrated as well. 



Middle school students require at least 9 hours of sleep a night.  They shouldn’t sleep with phones in their rooms. We teachers hear students say that they text during the night or watch YouTube, TikTok, and whatever on their phones and devices. Keep technology out of your child’s room. That includes a flashlight for those who like to read after lights out.  


Security/Social:   If your children are being bullied, please have them tell a teacher. If there is something negatively affecting a collaborative relationship among a group or between a pair of students, students should let their teachers know. If you child is anxious or upset about anything at home (like a relative who is sick), please let us know.  If your child is upset or angry with a teacher, he or she should make an appointment to talk with that teacher.  



Ego/Self-Actualization:  If your child attended a WCPSS school in the past, she should know about “the growth mindset” versus “the fixed mindset.” When we adults were children/adolescents, the prevailing science was that people couldn’t become smarter.  Carol Dweck and other researchers have since proven this false. 


  1.     Be mindful of the formation of a child’s identity and have high expectations


There is no such thing as a math person.  Actually, math is innate in all of us. (Reading is NOT; it has to be taught.)  Six-month-old babies have mathematical ability. 95% of the population has the brain power to understand math at high levels. It is GRIT and hard work that factor into math success. 


When you talk poorly about YOUR ability with math in front of your children, you are telling them that’s it’s OK not to know math.  After all, they perceive you as successful.  Parents are role models; kids want to be like you. Yes, even middle school students. (Shocking, I know!)



When you doubt your child’s ability in front of them, they listen.  They doubt themselves. Their identities are forming.  Self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone? 


Middle school students are too young to have an adult tell them what they are good at or not good at. The reason that they aren’t great at too many things yet is due to practice.  Experts say that individuals require 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in a skill/academic area/talent to become an expert. Practice makes (almost) perfect. 


When you criticize teachers or curricula in front of your children, you give them the idea that they are not responsible for their success.  They learn to blame instead of taking responsibility for their successes and failures.  It’s the opposite of empowerment. Lawn-mower parents or helicopter parents are sending a message to their children that the children themselves cannot change the trajectory of their learning. 


There is ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that one gender/race/ethnicity is better at math than another. Differences arise due to cultural norms, cultural expectations and cultural values. Oh, if there were biological or genetic differences, we would have consistent data from all cultures and all countries.  If boys have biological advantages of being better mathematicians than girls, then why are girls currently the highest math scorers on the UK’s version of EOGs? 


A lot of talented kids also have a disability label.  High-functioning autism, ADHD, learning disabilities…etc. These students may or may not have an IEP or a 504 plan. These plans provide accommodations, modifications and in the case of IEPs, additional instruction to level the playing field, so these kids can be successful. I had a student previously who was a great mathematician and great kid. She has ADD.  EVERY e-mail I received from her mom stated what her daughter couldn’t do. She easily achieved As and Bs in my class, but she couldn’t remember her notebook. She didn’t remember to do homework. Everything was blamed on ADD.  I’ve taught hundreds of kids with disabilities as a former special education teacher; most are successful because these students use taught strategies to stay focused and understand academics. If you or I make a disability part of a child's identity, it limits him. 


I have ADHD, and my son has ADD. He is not ADD. He’s a young man who struggles with focus from time to time, but he is a reader, a writer, a comedian, a helper, and a friend. That’s who he is. Again, he is not ADD. 


This man is not his disability either.



  1.     Encourage your child to advocate when he or she doesn’t understand.


            During collaboration, students should advocate to their partners when they don’t understand. If a group of students are confused, they should ask the teacher specific questions. 


            Students who advocate to parents FIRST do not learn as much as students who try to advocate in class. Parents should ensure students do their homework. Parents, feel free to check homework, but please do not do it for students and I do not recommend sitting with students as they work. Of course, every child is different and some may need different supports while others are totally independent.


            During homework if your child asks for your help, ask him/her why he or she doesn’t understand.  If there’s no real reason, he or she has an expectation that you will help him or her. Other kids in the class are asking their math teachers for assistance. Who do you think is better equipped to handle a math question? If you don’t want to be an auxiliary math teacher, find out what is going on. 


            Note that even though your child is proficient with computer games and Tik Tok, he or she does not understand that the computer is also a learning tool.  (Yes, it’s shocking to me too, but it’s true.) There are websites galore to support learning middle school math in the classroom.



  1.     Encourage your child to collaborate during math class. 


            Students who collaborate learn more. Students do not have to be extroverts to collaborate. This is a life skill that everyone requires today in the workforce. As in K-5thgrade, students in middle school collaborate as well.  This is how real math problems are solved.  No one sits at their desks and works independently anymore. 

            Watch “The Imitation Game” which will demonstrate (in the end) how real mathematicians work together to achieve greatness. (Note that this movie is PG-13 and includes “adult situations.”) 



  1.     There’s no rush!  Kids can take their time in math.


            Everyone has a different processing speed. We need deep mathematical thinkers in math not just ones with high processing speeds. Everyone has as much time as he needs on any test/quiz.  Kids have to be willing to come before school or during lunch to finish assignments, but they’ll have that time. (They need to remember to come.) 


  1.     Students should learn from their mistakes.  And they shouldn’t fear making them. 


            Made a bad grade?  Students should learn from it.  One bad grade doesn’t mean your child cannot achieve in math.  Their achievement or struggles can stem from not understanding elementary school math. It’s not too late to learn, however.  Praise hard work and grit.  (Growth Mindset strategy!) Having high expectations for achievement and behavior is very important. Teachers should have high expectations from students as well, but they will fail or stumble on occasion. Model for them what you do when you make a mistake.  A little bit of frustration is not a bad thing.  


  1.     The ins and outs of homework. 


            Research on the impact of homework on student achievement is mixed overall; yet, middle school homework does seem to have more of a positive impact on achievement than homework assigned during elementary school. Note that homework – which can now be graded – only accounts for 10% of a student’s grade. (Not every homework assignment is graded, however.) Students who do homework tend to be more mathematically proficient than students who do not do homework. It is more practice. Growth mindset again!


  1.     Investigate careers and colleges! 


            This can be motivating.  Ask me if you think your child is too young. Yesterday my daughter was in sixth grade.  Today she’s a sophomore at Appalachian State. Time flies.  


            I knew when I was six years old that I wanted to go to college. I knew this because my mom talked about her college experience. We live near many colleges, and many of them offer programs and tours. Visit. 


            Watch college games on TV or attend live events. In our grade level, we have teachers who have graduated from NCSU and UNC-CH. We like to joke around with our sports teams. The kids love it and it gives them exposure to the possibility of college. 


            Kids at this age also do not understand specifics about college. They don’t know that you have to apply to get into college, and they don’t know about majors. I love, love, love it when a kid makes fun of NCSU sports teams and then they tell me, “Mrs. Rice, my dream is to be a veterinarian or an animal scientist…”


  1.   Engage in mathematical thinking and read, read, read, read and did I   mention read?


  •     Teach your child Sudoku and similar logic pen-to-paper games
  •     Play board games:  Chess, Monopoly, Blokus, Settlers of Catan, ….etc. 
  •     Play Scrabble/Words with Friends:  These are really math games. Anyone can make a word; how strategic are you with where you place your word?
  •     Play card games like Hearts (teaches integer addition/subtraction)
  •     Talk about politics/current events/social issues.  Teach them to argue both sides of an issue.  Be a devil’s advocate.  
  •     Have them cook and double/half recipes. This supports ratio understanding! 
  •     Show them how to shop for the best deal (unit price). 
  •     If you are a scientist, show them how math connects to science
  •     If you are a businessperson, show them how math connects to social studies/economics.
  •     Encourage kids to run a yard/garage sale.   Encourage them to bargain when they visit a yard or garage sale. 
  •     Have them help you with food or birthday party budgets


Specific Concerns for 6th grade.


Here are the standards for middle school grade math:


6th grade:


7th grade:


8th grade:


Math website for parents from NCDPI (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction):


NC has its own standards. They are VERY CLOSE to the Common Core Standards. 


This year due to remote learning, students will need to learn additional standards. Note that ALL students will need to learn these. Your child isn’t the only one who is behind.


Where do rising 6th graders struggle?


  1.       Overall, even with the implementation of conceptual instruction of fractions and decimals in elementary school, students still struggle with understanding fractions and decimals. You can ask your child these questions to ascertain his/her level of understanding. 


  •     What is 4 – 2/3?  If your child looks at you in bewilderment or tries to convert the 4 into an improper fraction, he may struggle with the conceptual understanding of fractions.


  •     What is the approximate value of 7/8 + 12/13?


  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 4 ½
  4. 13


                        If your child tries to solve this, or shrugs her shoulders, she is not sure about the size of fractions and/or how to estimate. 


When I taught elementary school, I did classroom fraction problems with candy. (I know it’s not healthy, but they pay attention.) Kit Kats are good because they are already segmented.  Twizzlers are good because you can do any fraction operation with them.  Ex:


  1.       Juan has ½ of a Twizzler while Dan has 1/3 of a Twizzler.  How much of a Twizzler do both have together?  (Addition)
  2.       Juan has ½ of a Twizzler while Dan has 1/3 of a Twizzler.  Who has more?  How much more does he have? (Subtraction and Comparing Fractions)
  3.       Lily eats 1/8 of a Twizzler each day for 6 days. How much of a Twizzler has she                                 eaten?  (Multiplication)
  4.       Lily has 2 Twizzlers and wants to share them with 4 friends (not including her).                                How much of a Twizzler does each friend receive?  (Division)



  1.   Question 4 above is is 2 divided by 4. This can be written as 2/4 or 1/2. This is a fifth grade standard that eludes just about every rising 6th grader!


Consider this:  6 divided by 3 = 2    3 groups of 2.  3 is the # of equal groups while 2 is the size of the group


1 divided by 2  = ½       2 is the number of equal groups while ½ is the size of the group. 



  1.       Many students in 6th grade do not know their multiplication facts and this hurts kids beyond simply multiplying. 


Here is some resources to help:


Reflex Math offers a 30-day free trial:




  1.       Last but not least – here is a list of other resources that can support kids.  


            This site has a lot of resources for parents and students including a free math course for students:



            WCPSS supports Khan Academy in the classroom. Khan has developed free tutorials and practices quizzes for most math standards. It is FREE and doesn’t come with a lot of bells and whistles.  Some kids like it, while others do not.  Khan does have comprehensive videos, but he’s a mathematician, not an educator.


            Parents tell me their child likes this platform:



            More sites: