Establishing Business/Parent Partnerships

The goals of the business/parent partnerships are the following:

  1. Introduce girls and boys to women and men who use mathematics in their work.

  2. Support student understanding of the importance of mathematics in a wide variety of careers.

  3. Build school and community connections.

  4. Garner support for the NCTM standards in your community.

  5. 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 curriculum choices!

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 young woman.

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 the class.

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 do.

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:

  1. Have students write a few of their possible questions prior to meeting each visitor.

  2. 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.)

Structuring Visits

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.

  1. Keep your presentation to 30 minutes or less.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Please be prepared to answer questions from students.
Thank you for your time and attention. Together we will make a difference for students in this community.

last modified July 1997
© Copyright 1997 TERC, All Rights Reserved.