This is my first post as a contributor to Daddy's Digest, and I'm really excited to talk about one of my biggest passions as a Dad, which is totally nerdy:

Teaching math to my kids.

My 6 1/2 year old is doing grade 4 math. My 4 year old is doing grade 2 math. So it's going well, by outside standards, but other than having a lot of books in our house, I haven't done anything really special. This is my story of how I got here.

I didn’t just wake up one day and say “Hey, I’m really going to get into the math thing.” I always loved math, and even taught my two younger siblings when they were in middle school and high school. But the story of how I ended up here contributing as a math expert starts in Silicon Valley, where one Harvard & MIT educated hedge fund analyst was dipping his toes into education.

Sal Khan was enjoying the 4th of July fireworks in Boston with his grade 6 cousin Nadia, who lived in New Orleans. He noticed a flair for solving tough problems and started teaching her online and long distance. Eventually, he put his lessons on YouTube. Those lessons got seen by hundreds of people not named Nadia, and eventually thousands. One of those people not named Nadia was named Bill Gates, who asked for a meeting (Sal’s was available). With Bill Gates on his side, money came in, Khan Academy was started and in 2010, he made Fortune’s 40 under 40. 

This list comes out. I start reading, discover Sal Khan and his Academy.

After starting to explore the Khan Academy program, within 45 minutes, I am totally mesmerized, hooked and full of energy. This guy has a better way of teaching math!

His main idea is mastery-based learning. You don't build a house by giving the 1st set of contractors 7 weeks to build the basement, then kick them out, then the 2nd set of contractors 5 weeks to build the first floor, then kick them out, and then a 3rd set of contractors to build the 2nd floor.

If you do that, the 2nd floor will topple, destroying the whole house.

You can't build a house without a good foundation. And yet, today, we teach 12+ years of math like the example above. Get a B- in Grade 3? Congrats – you are now in Grade 4. Get a C+ in Grade 4? Welcome to grade 5. But since every concept and every year builds upon the previous, what you are really doing with this approach is building a house with a badly constructed basement and first floor. You know it's all going to fall apart.

And what if you get a 95? That's an A+ but what if you actually don't know what it means to take something to the 10th power? The next test you get a 90%, and then 2 years later, math is too hard.

So how do we fix it? We use something called mastery-based learning, and we do it in a self-paced approach:

Here’s what it’s all about: get 100% on everything you do, and move on to new material not when the teacher says to the whole group: "It's time to move to the next topic!" but instead only when you get 100% – mastery-based, and only when you hit that 100% – self-paced.

This made so much sense to me, so I volunteered for 18 months and spent 1,200 hours doing all sorts of things for Sal and Khan Academy including getting him booked on the Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert. It was fun! By the end, they had gone from 0 to 27 employees and didn't need volunteers as much.

Fast forward 5 years, and my first son is born. I learned a better way of teaching math. I was excited to, when the time was right, really dive into this self-paced, mastery-based model. So here I am, a contributor to Daddy's Digest, ready to share this with you all, with the hopes of helping your kids be more successful in math. I would love to share a little bit more of my process. I would also love to do a bunch of Q&A posts to help all the dads out there spark the enthusiasm of math with their kids.

It really is a lot of fun. Even through the pandemic, it has been a great way of bonding with your kid(s). It also happens to be a great foundation for doing well all throughout life. So leave any thoughts or questions you have about teaching your kids math in the comments – I would love to hear from you.

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Written by Peter Kuperman

Annie Sprout, Unsplash

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