Building a Supportive Home/School Partnership

By Kristin Gray, Jenna Laib, Sarah Caban

Open House. Back-to-School Night. Family Welcome. Math Night. No matter what the name of the event that launches the school year, family members will arrive at your school with the same burning questions: What do I need to know to set up my child up for success in math this year? and How can I continue to support them throughout the school year?

Although families and teachers both understand the importance of a home/school partnership, that relationship is often complicated. As the year gets rolling, both parties may feel short on time to make it work and sometimes even the best intentions conflict. In the spirit of being proactive instead of reactive, we have developed a downloadable IM 6–8 Math Family Night lesson plan.

We developed each of these grade-level family night lesson plans to mirror problem-based lessons in IM 6–8 Math where the focus is on the math and math learning rather than the typical monologue on procedures and policies. These activities are meant to invite families to think about the following questions: What does it look like to do math? What are the advantages of having students do math in a problem-based curriculum, instead of in a more traditional lecture-and-practice format? What resources are available to help set our students up for success this year?

This structure reflects the overarching design of IM 6–8 Math units and lessons. Each lesson begins with an invitation for students to do the mathematics before launching into the heart of the work. Each unit follows the same structure. Each grade level at large follows this design, too, as does the experience across the 6-8 continuum. It makes sense to think about the home/school partnership with the same flow: an invitation, then the heart of the work, and then application.

How do we want to invite families to engage?

As with every curriculum lesson, it is important to start with the learning goals.

Family Night Learning Goals

  • Begin a supportive, year-long relationship of math learning
  • Understand how a problem-based lesson looks and feels
  • Understand the connection between what students are learning in class and the family support materials
  • Understand how to access the student and family materials

Each grade level lesson plan is estimated to last about an hour with a focus on Unit 1 in the curriculum. The plans each follow the same outline and include suggested modifications for longer or shorter amounts of time. The general structure and purpose for each section is described below, with more detailed teacher notes available in the downloadable lesson plan.

*For ease of reading, we interchangeably refer to family members as participants in these descriptions.  

  1. We launch the time together by asking for words or phrases in response to the question, What does it mean to you to ‘do math’? Family members, students, and teachers may have very different perspectives on this question. Just as we do with students, we begin without judgment and record participants’ words and phrases accurately. Family members arrive with their own mathematical identities and a wealth of different experiences, so it is important to honor and respect these experiences. It is our hope that over the course of the hour together, there will be shared mathematical experiences that unite participants, and perhaps shift some perspectives on what it means to ‘do math’.
  2. Next, family members experience a warm-up from the curriculum lesson. Teachers may need to contextualize this, explaining how it fits into the unit’s narrative arc, and then facilitate it as written in the curriculum. We purposefully chose an activity with a warm-up that is more open in order to invite everyone into the mathematics. In addition to demonstrating a curriculum lesson that students experience, this time also gives family members time to warm up their own mathematical thinking.
  3. The warm-up segues into a lesson activity that follows. This is an anchoring experience meant to set the stage for what it looks and sounds like for the students to learn math this year. We purposefully chose an activity that is hands-on, involves some intuition outside of simply knowing or not knowing the math, and can be supported by the use of mathematical tools. It is important to be mindful that this may be the first time families are engaging with a mathematical task like the ones in the curriculum, so they must feel supported as they work, be encouraged to collaborate, and experience moments of success.
  4. To extend the experience of the lesson activity, families are invited to read through a portion of the Unit 1 family support letter. Teachers should encourage families to make connections to the warm-up and lesson activity as they read. Just as we suggest doing throughout the school year, we chose to only include the portion of the letter from the section of the unit they experienced to keep the reading length manageable and content-focused. This is an opportunity for the teacher to also demonstrate how to access the family letters and student materials as well as offer strategies for using them, e.g., to understand content before jumping into homework help, to support students that need or want extra practice, etc.
  5. To close, we suggest revisiting the framing question: What does it mean to ‘do’ math? Families will have experienced three activities as a group: a warm-up, a lesson activity, and family letter. Consider asking: What did it feel like to do math tonight? What felt different from what you remember about doing math when you were in middle school? How might this approach improve learning and understanding in math? How can these resources help you support your child this year?

If there are other items on the agenda for family night—e.g., some brief discussion of policies, expectations, or rules—the suggested time spent on each section may be trimmed down. Communicating expectations is important. Before you devote your entire time with families to rules, however, remember to ask yourself: Is this how I want to invite families to partner with me? What might best achieve your goals?

To download the lesson plan and materials, click here.