Establishing Business/Parent Partnerships
The goals of the business/parent partnerships are the following:
Introduce girls and boys to women and men who use mathematics in
- Support student understanding of the importance of mathematics in a
wide variety of careers.
- Build school and community connections.
- Garner support for the NCTM standards in your community.
- Support community knowledge of the breadth of mathematical knowledge needed -- geometry, data analysis, and
mathematics of change, -- not just arithmetic.
We have established highly successful community partnerships in two ways. One, we
invite parents of participating students to come to Math Club and discuss how they use
math in their work. Two, we partner with local businesses and coordinate 6 or 7 visits
from different employees within the same business who do math in their work. In each
case we ask our speakers to present their work in 30 minutes or less and to be ready to
answer questions for 15 minutes at least. Each model has its own advantages. In general business
partnerships require more time at start up, but they can often be established so that in
following years the format is set up and requires little effort to repeat. It is also fascinating
to learn about how jobs within the same business connect to create a whole organization.
Parent partnerships give parents a concrete way to support classroom work. This is
fulfilling for both them and their children. Also, parent volunteers often work in diverse settings. Both models have supported the adoption of the NCTM standards in
communities we've worked in. The mathematics that people report doing in their jobs is in
line with the new standards and is out of sync with the rote teaching of mathematics.
Sometimes this is a revelation for the speakers and leads to productive discussion about
We've had excellent discussions with engineers, doctors, welders, mechanics, nurses,
computer programmers, customer service representatives, advertising sales reps and small
business owners. It has been extremely positive for girls and boys to
see women breaking traditional barriers. In one school we had a young female computer
systems director present with a computer programmer who worked for her. He happened
to be older and male. Both of them were extremely articulate and professional. After they
left students expressed surprise and interest in the fact that a man would work for a
In each pilot school girls generally needed extra support thinking about questions to ask
partners at first. With practice girls developed and asked more questions. We realized that
in the co-ed setting boys did most of the talking when visitors came. We felt it was very
important that the girls learn to carry the responsibility for holding discussions with
visitors. The larger general issue with boys' groups was to support them in becoming more
responsible about raising their hands and giving each other a chance to speak. In any case
we recommend using both suggestions with girls and boys.
Our most successful business/parent partnership programs have taken place between
January and May. The holiday season tends to be a very difficult time to schedule visits.
Also, some teachers prefer to know their students very well before introducing visitors to
Recruiting Parent Volunteers
If you choose to work with parents, it is a good idea to send home a return slip with the
letter you send home to introduce Math Clubs. Talk with students about whether they think
their parents might be interested. (See the Introductory Letter to Parents.) Call interested parents
individually to set up class visits. It is safe to assume that most occupations lend
themselves to discussions about mathematics. One of our most informative visits was from
a pastry chef. Most parents will not be concerned about how to develop an age appropriate
presentation because they know their children.
Finding Businesses to Partners with
Establish a contact person at a local business you are interested in or corral the enthusiasm of interested
parents and ask them to approach the organizations they work for. In one case a mother
who was a hairdresser and knew nearly everyone in town found a partnership through her
clients. Some principals will be helpful establishing these contacts, but don't feel that
you have to count on this support. (Do inform and include your principal in your
planning!) We have found that business leaders tend to be interested in supporting math
clubs because their investment is manageable, and they care about supporting the local
schools. Many women in business (and plenty of men too) are especially interested in
supporting girls in mathematics.
Once you have established a contact person, describe the project to that person and ask her
or him to gauge the interest of the main supervisor. If the supervisor can commit the
volunteer time necessary for employees to visit the school on two occasions for an hour
each time, then it is time to gauge the interest of employees. We strongly recommend
inviting both female and male speakers.
Make plans to visit the place of business and meet with potential classroom speakers.
Ideally bring your partner teacher(s) and an administrator. This is important because it
gives school personnel a chance to see what the company does, meet potential speakers, and
describe the math club project goals and objectives and how classroom speaker visits work. It also gives potential visitors the chance to know better if this is really something they want to
The most frequently asked questions from potential visitors during our planning visits related to what fourth and fifth graders are like. Assuring visitors that students would
not be unruly and that a teacher would be present at all times was important to their
participation. Ask visitors to think about the connections between
their work and that of other employees so that when they do speak with students they can refer to each others' work and
how the pieces fit together. Students often have not thought about these connections and
they are intrigued.
A few days after visiting the business site call the contact person about getting
commitments from 6 or 7 employees and developing a schedule of visits. For your own
sanity do as much scheduling as possible through your contact person. This person does
not need to be the same person you connected with initially, but she or he does need to
know the scope of the partnership and what your goals are.
Discussing business/parent partner visits with students
We found it was critical to stay in single gender groups when partners visited. We felt girls
needed to know these discussions about careers related to mathematics were aimed at them.
Boys also benefited immensely from meeting articulate, strong women in professional roles
who were talking to them.
To prepare students for partner visits we found two things were helpful:
- Have students write a few of their possible questions prior to meeting each visitor.
- Discuss appropriate behavior with students prior to business/parent partner visits. Make
your expectations clear. (For example, listen quietly, raise your hand before speaking out.)
At each site we had partners visit both our girls and boys clubs. Usually this meant having
the same person come back two weeks in a row. One strategy that worked well was to have
two people from the same business come at the same time two weeks in a row. The first
week one person met with girls, the other with the boys, and then they switched. When the
volunteers were parents we sometimes had husband/wife teams come in two weeks in a
row, but this was difficult to coordinate. See what works in your community, but
make sure that all students benefit from listening to each visitor.
Feel free to print and hand out the following tips for prospective visitors. Alternatively,
revise these tips to meet the needs of your particular situation. We did find that visitors
really appreciated and wanted written tips.
Preparation Tips for Visiting Speakers
The goal of our speaker series is to support students' understanding of how mathematics is
used in the workplace. Additionally we want students to realize that exciting careers which
require mathematics are open to them if they continue their mathematics education. We
hope you find the following tips helpful as you prepare for your visit.
Thank you for your time and attention. Together we will make a difference for students in
- Keep your presentation to 30 minutes or less.
- Please share information about the following:
What is your job title?
What do you do in a typical day?
What mathematics do you do in your work?
What training did you need in order to become eligible for your job?
What advice would you offer a student interested in the same or similar work?
What do you like most about your work?
As much as possible please convey your enthusiasm for doing math in your work.
- Feel free to pose a problem related to your work, or to design an experiment for students
to do. If you choose to do this, please consult with the classroom teacher for tips on
keeping the problems age and skill appropriate. Examples of problems business partners
have posed at other schools include analyzing sales data to determine what merchandise to
stock in the upcoming months, determining the number of decorations that would fit
around the edge of a four layer wedding cake and the number of nails needed to put on a
roof, and developing a system for testing the durability of a Nintendo game.
- Please be prepared to answer questions from students.
last modified July 1997
Copyright 1997 TERC, All Rights Reserved.