This is a forum for thinking together about teaching and learning math, with special attention to supporting students who are struggling.
We are tutors and developers of math intervention materials. In our tutoring and workshops, we see students who may know some shortcut tricks but they don’t understand the concepts behind them; they don’t know what they’re a shortcut to! Or they understand the concept, but can’t remember the facts. Some may know that they need to divide or multiply on both sides of the equal sign to get a right answer. But they don’t know why. They’re being taught computation but not the amazing and beautiful world of mathematical thinking.
We are concerned with how math is often taught. When we go into schools to do workshops, we see active teachers explaining and modeling, and passive students (listening and understanding?). These lessons are largely linguistic and teachers expect the students to translate them into accurate mental mathematical models. The words come from the teacher’s experience, not the students’, so in many cases they do not carry the same meaning for the students. Gaps are created in what the students hear and understand. Teachers are trying to give them a fish, not teaching them to fish.
This works for some students. But look at our standing in the developed world in math. And last November we read that for the first time since 1990, America’s fourth-graders show no improvement in math and 61% of fourth graders and 66% of eighth graders are below proficient. Our concern is for more effective teaching with students not doing well in math. We have had an equal concern for keeping other students from joining them. Guiding student discovery with good materials and good questions works just as well with students who need help as with those who are “getting it.”
This blog is meant as a place for classroom teachers, parents, tutors, resource teachers, teaching assistants, and homeschool parents to think out loud together across schools, districts, states, and countries. What are you thinking about? How do the earlier posts and comments strike you? Share related best practices, suggest new topics, “problem of the week” problems, and alternate solutions to the problems of the week. Tell your colleagues, fellow parents, and friends about our blog. We don’t want to be the only one’s talking here.
Thank you for your interest and support of all of us committed to the quality of math teaching and learning.
Posts are written and edited by Jeff Simpson and Jim Dowcett of Mastery Learning Systems.
You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-533-4181