Talking to children about current events like the Gulf Oil spill -- and using mathematical terms to do so - can help students develop better reasoning and math skills and perform better in school, a new study has suggested.
"When families chat about societal issues, they often create simple mathematical models of the events," Ming Ming Chiu, a University at Buffalo professor.
"Unlike casual chats, these chats about societal issues can both show the real-life value of mathematics to motivate students and improve their number sense," Chiu added.
It was the first international study on how conversations among family members affect students' mathematical aptitude and performance in school. Chiu's findings were based on data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Interestingly, Chiu found that family chats about society and current events are uncommon, regardless of ethnic background or level of affluence.
"Chats about society and current events occur less than once a month for 58 percent of the children in the 41 countries," Chiu said.
"Students in richer countries, richer families, or with two parents do not have more family chats about societal issues than other students do," he added.
Chiu's findings conclude that the impact of chats and other family involvement is much greater in more affluent countries than those in developing countries.
So these discussions often do more good in families within richer countries.
"In rich countries, most students have rulers, books, calculators and other physical resources, but they do not spend much time with their parents (family involvement)," Chiu said.
"So family involvement becomes more important to student learning in richer countries," Chiu added.
The findings of the study were published in the current issue of Social Forces, an international journal of sociology.