Lindsay Naser is no stranger to teaching, so she should have felt right at home in front of a classroom one recent weeknight. But even the local math teacher had to admit it felt different this time around, because while her lesson plan was the same, the faces staring back at her were not.
Simply put, they were older. Old enough to drink. And drink they did (in moderation, of course).
Naser was presiding over her first-ever workshop she’s calling Think and Drink, which she’s running alongside her former vice principal, Amie Conger, under their new business, Calculated Connections.
The duo modeled the workshops after the popular paint-and-sip trend. But instead of teaching how to paint, they’re teaching math. The result, they hope, is that parents leave with a better understanding of what their children are learning in schools, feeling confident that they can lend a hand if questions come up during homework.
“When parents have that feeling or went through school not being good at math, that’s just their identity now,” explained Conger, who recently left ADL and is looking for education coaching opportunities. “It changes the way we talk to kids and the way that we ask kids to look at learning. So part of this is teaching parents to unlearn.”
Naser, on a yearlong unpaid family leave to spend time with her son, said the concept came to her after repeatedly hearing from parents that they were struggling to help their children with “this new math.”
“It’s not new math, it’s the same math we’ve always learned,” Naser told The Reporter. “It’s just different strategies and tools and ways of looking at it.”
“It’s a new way of thinking,” Conger added. “It’s looking at things in-depth and really understanding what you’re doing.”
Novelty alone was enough for this reporter to accept an invitation to the event last month. But the educators-turned-entrepreneurs needed to know whether their idea could actually be a viable business idea, so they recruited a dozen parents – most of whom they knew personally – and asked for feedback.
Early arrivers huddled around a table of snacks or surveyed the alcoholic offerings, sharing in the anxious energy of knowing they would soon be asked to do math. A few admitted their nervousness to Naser, who, for likely the first time in her teaching career, told her students that one solution may very well be alcohol.
“That’s what the beer and wine are for!” she said. “People are very defensive and nervous about math, and there’s no reason to be.”
She has a point. No other grade school subject seems to draw a more polarizing response from adults. Most know people – perhaps even themselves – who self-identify as not-math-people, as if at some point in their schooling careers an entire chunk of the population were told that understanding math was simply out of their equation.
It doesn’t help that math has seemed to changed since these parents were in school. The educators explained that’s due to the introduction of the Common Core, with math standards now more about the hows and whys instead of the approach taught to parents, which Conger described as “copying a problem 25 times and doing the same thing over and over.”
Renee Dall, one of the workshop’s attendees, confirmed this. She said the methods being taught to her children are far different from how she learned math. “All we did was memorize things,” she said. Now, math buzzwords can feel like a foreign language.
To help chip away at this feeling, Naser had the parents work through two different word problems. She then asked several to show their work on a projector before she offered a few of her own methods.
While most parents reached the correct conclusion, they arrived there a few different ways. That was fine with the teacher: In fact, it was the point.
“There are no right or wrong ways in math,” Naser told the parents. “There’s only right or wrong answers.” (The gold star went to Naser’s father, who knowing his daughter’s stance on graphs – they are the most underrated tool – used one to answer the question).
The parents found the second word problem a bit more difficult. And that was OK, too, because Naser doesn’t expect parents to be able to help their kids with every math problem on their homework even after attending the workshops.
“However, I can almost guarantee every single parent will go home and show their kids: ‘Look at what I did in math tonight,’” she said. “That’s a conversation piece when your middle schooler says, ‘My day was fine.’”
Naser and Conger are still working on a final business plan for Calculated Connections, including pricing for the workshops. They soon will host two free introductory Think and Drink events at the Main Street Studio in Essex Jct.: one on September 12 focused on grades 3-5, and one September 24 on grades 6-8.
But feedback from last month’s work session did leave them with a new direction: bringing the show on the road for house parties, in which hosts can get a discount.
Dall, the local parent, seemed on board with that idea, teasing she would be sure to replace the paper cups with actual wine glasses. Jokes aside, Dall said she fully supported the educators’ mission, recalling the frustrating scenes that have played in her own home whenever her children ask her for help with their math.
Now they just ask her husband. Given he’s an engineer, the arrangement has worked out. But like many parents at the session, Dall said she would still like to feel useful.
“I want them to think I’m smarter than them,” she said. “At least for a little longer.”
The free introductory workshops will be capped at 15 participants, so those interested in pre-registering should email firstname.lastname@example.org.