Students still can't get away from plodding through rote math drills, but with technology increasingly used to perform basic calculations, more importance should be focused on understanding math concepts, teachers say.
To that end, a number of schools in the Oxnard Elementary School District hold family math sessions a couple of nights a year. The events are touted as a chance for students and their parents to have a little fun with hands-on activities geared toward fostering a love for mathematical patterns.
"What we see is that kids need to learn to work in groups and as a team player and think things through from beginning to end, not just add, subtract and multiply," said LuAnn McDuffee, who heads the math department at Fremont Intermediate School in Oxnard. "They're moving into a world where calculators do that and we need to do the thinking."
In the Fremont cafeteria this week, more than 130 students and their parents moved from table to table every 10 minutes to unlock the answers to various math riddles.
At one station, the problem called for creating a figure containing six squares using 17 toothpicks. Five of the toothpicks then had to be removed so that only three squares remained. There's only one solution.
Another called for an exercise in logic: Arrange a series of playing cards in a certain order. It seemed simple at first, but the riddle left some parents and students lingering at the table, miffed when their 10 minutes were up. And to teach students about geometry, instructors used spaghetti strands to introduce pupils to the idea of intersections and parallel lines.
"What happens is they see the idea and they get the term so they understand the concept before they get the vocabulary," said math teacher Marianna Greene.
Aside from imparting math lessons, teachers hope it's a night to get parents more involved in their children's education and to lift the veil of fear that some parents have when dealing with numbers.
"Many parents themselves fear math and say I hate it and assume their kids will, too," McDuffee said. "We don't want that. We want to break that."