"Spark Your Child's Success in Math and Science: Practical
Advice for Parents" is based on the latest research about
how children learn, and reflects the authors' nearly 20
years of experience developing K-12 teaching tools. The
authors, Jacqueline Barber, Nicole Parizeau and Lincoln
Bergman of the Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS)
program at the Lawrence Hall of Science, emphasize that
the book's advice applies equally well to other subjects.
"There are a couple of decades worth of research that overwhelmingly
shows that parent involvement is the single most important
factor in kids' future academic success," said Barber, GEMS
director and the mother of three boys.
"The Lawrence Hall of Science has long been involved in
giving advice to parents and doing research on how kids
best learn science and math," said Bergman, associate director
of GEMS and the father of two girls. "The book is a way
for us to put together in a trade book, rather than in a
teacher's guide or in a pedagogical handbook, some of the
lessons we've learned."
Barber, Bergman and Parizeau based their book on questionnaires
they distributed in the East Bay that asked parents what
information they wanted.
"The results weren't what we expected," Barber said. "In
general, parents don't want to know what their kids should
be learning or how they compare to kids in Japan. They basically
want to know, 'What can I do to make a difference?' They
want to know really concrete things, such as, 'How do I
interact around homework?'"
Homework, in fact, presents the biggest dilemma for parents.
"The section on homework was the one section where we had
a hard time being balanced," Barber said. "In fact, there
is no research - none - that shows that the amount of homework
makes a difference, in the long run, to how well kids do
"We try to distinguish between quality homework and less
quality homework, but in the end, it doesn't really matter
- your kid's coming home with homework, so how can you help
your kids cope with it and do the best they can?"
"So many teachers assign more of it because of pressure
from parents, rather than because that would be the best
way for kids to learn," added Bergman. "It can lessen curiosity
and the spark of learning."
The book also addresses testing and assessment, which tend
to polarize parents - a fact reflected in a sharp split
between pro-testing and anti-testing groups, Barber said.
"The issues are complex, and there is a lot of misinformation
out there," she said. "It's not that tests are bad. There
are good tests and bad tests, and you need to know enough
In their book, the authors demystify testing and standardized
tests, and they urge parents not to take grades or the results
of tests as the final word on their child.
"No matter how good the test, one data point is not enough
to draw any big conclusions about someone's overall ability
in mathematics or whatever," Barber said. "There are a lot
of other data points - assessment broadly, information parents
can get from schoolwork or just by observing their children."
The key emphasis in the book is involvement. Parents tend
to fall into two groups, Barber said - the uninvolved and
the over-involved. The authors urge a middle course and
detail a variety of ways to get involved, ranging from volunteering
in the classroom or organizing a parent support group, to
simple things, such as showing interest in your child's
"Involvement is a collection of many small factors, including
your home environment, your expectations for your child,
the support you provide, your attitudes about their school
and how your child is doing in school, about their future.
When one or more of those conditions are in place there
are very tangible results - higher grades and test scores,
better attendance, more homework done, fewer placements
in special education classes, on and on," Barber said.
Involvement is reciprocal, she emphasized. Teachers also
need to find ways to draw parents into the learning process,
if only by sending home notes informing parents what their
child learned that day. This primes parents to ask their
child relevant questions, rather than just a broad "What
did you do today?" - a question that all too often elicits
the answer, "Stuff."
"Schools that are effective all have articulated parent
involvement strategies," Barber said.
Larded with anecdotes by teachers and parents, the book
comes with helpful "resource boxes" that summarize tips
for parents, ranging from how to build a relationship with
your child's teacher and how to encourage inquiry in your
child, to a list of questions that can help you guide your
child through homework without doing it yourself.
The primer also deals with other hot issues in education,
such as the learning and developmental differences between
boys and girls and how today's educational system and classroom
often favor girls over boys.
Though the book fills parents' needs, it also satisfies
the needs of teachers. Barber and Bergman previously wrote
a book for teachers and parent activists about how to encourage
parental involvement in school education. "Parent Partners,
Workshops to Foster School/Home Family Partnerships," led
to the new book.
"Our book is straightforward: it doesn't have to be a perfect
school or a perfect teacher or a perfect situation for your
kid to do really great," Barber said. "Look at who your
kid's teacher is this year, look at the strengths that teacher
brings and the gifts she has to offer, and capitalize on