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Teachers play an important role in fostering mathematics skills. In this lesson, learn some good ways to teach math methods and problem-solving strategies.

The Math Teacher

Math teachers have a nuanced job. They must teach the building blocks of math, such as number sense and operational skills, as well as boost students’ ability to think about problems.

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They need to incorporate aspects of language, including reading and writing, into their subject and provide direct instruction on methods of exploration. Additionally, math teachers must motivate students to try and teach them to persevere when problems are challenging. Let’s look at some of the best methods and strategies for a quality math program.

Methods for Teaching Math

When we talk about a method of instruction, we mean how content is being taught. This runs the gamut from style of instruction—for example, lecture vs. hands-on—to materials used. Here are some tried and true methods for teaching math:Use VisualsMany students need to see a lesson in addition to hearing it. While explaining an operation or skill, use a visual or graphic to help get the point across.

This can be as simple as showing the lesson on a document camera or as savvy as using a video or other technology tool.Note that children do best when instruction is paired with a visual; using a visual as a stand-alone teaching device isn’t always effective. Vary your usage to keep students engaged.Make ConnectionsOur brains are machines that thrive on connections. In fact, long-term memory is a complicated web of neurons, or brain cells, banded together. To help students make sense of concepts, provide them with connections to the real world or previously taught lessons. Always begin a new lesson with a reminder of the last.

For example, you might say, ‘Yesterday, we learned about the numerator in fractions. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the other part of a fraction: the denominator.’Also, pay close attention to how students react to the connections you make. For example, one group might understand best when you use board games as an example, while another group might react better to an example connected to sports.Use AssessmentsMath is typically a progression-based subject. Skills build one upon another, and the order in which they’re taught is predetermined.

Because of this, a math teacher doesn’t have to think much about what to teach when, but it is necessary to use assessments to determine student understanding. Formative assessments, or informal assessments meant to check in on student learning and drive future instruction, should be used frequently. This can help teachers identify students who struggle and allow additional small group or one-on-one instruction.Formative assessments aren’t usually taken for grades.

Students need to feel comfortable with their exploration of a subject without fear of their performance being used for grading.Focus on StrategiesAs we’ll talk about later, math is all about problem-solving using strategies. Sometimes, there’s only one way to solve a problem, but many times there are multiple avenues to the answer. When teaching, model several strategies for understanding and exploring a concept.

Encourage students to apply high-level skills when given problems and focus on the thought process involved in the solution. Although math usually only has one right answer, being able to reason through the steps to find the answer is the most important part of being a successful math student.

Teaching Math Strategies

As we discussed earlier, we want our students to be mathematical thinkers. This means they need to think strategically about solving math problems. A strategy, then, is a way teachers instruct for maximum benefit. Teachers use strategies to help students learn math as well. Thinking about how to best deliver a lesson is foremost in quality teaching.

Some strategies include the following:

  • Keep it interesting: Use many different instructional methods to keep students interested in instruction. Those can vary depending on the objective and might include exploring manipulatives, working in groups or with partners, or creating a project. Mix it up to keep students’ attention.

  • Use literature: As discussed earlier, it’s vital that concepts be connected to prior learning for long-term memory. Using familiar stories to explain and connect mathematical concepts rockets new learning to make solid and long-lasting connections. For example, the book Lemonade in Winter by Emily Jenkins is great to use when teaching concepts related to money and simple math concepts. Use the two main characters’ experiences trying to sell lemonade in winter to launch money computation and addition units.
  • Use think alouds: To build on their high-level thinking skills, students need to be able to explain their thoughts in a step-by-step manner. Teach children how to do this by making it the norm in your classroom to use think alouds, or talk throughs, every time you or a student solves a problem.
  • Make them move it: Students need activity, and need it often, to be able to meet the demands of a rigorous math class.

    Make sure your students are active at least once a lesson. Interaction can include math games, partner shares, or using white boards. Students need time and space to shift from passive to active learning, so plan times for your students to get up and move.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Math teachers use many methods when teaching. Their job when instructing is to develop methods, or ways to teaching, that will benefit students and make them successful. Methods for quality math instruction include using visuals, making connections, using formative assessments, and teaching strategic thinking.

Teachers also use strategies to keep students engaged. These include varying the lesson to keep things interesting, using literature to connect, teaching students to think out loud when reasoning, and allowing for frequent movement. Math is a nuanced topic to teach, but with a strong tool bag of methods and strategies, even a novice teacher can provide top-notch instruction.

Methods and Strategies for Math Teachers

Math Student

The following table contains the methods and strategies math teachers can use to help students learn. Remember, a method is how content is being taught, while a strategy is a way teachers instruct for maximum benefit.

Methods Strategies
*use visuals *make connections *use assessments *focus on strategies *keep it interesting *use literature *use think alouds *incorporate frequent movement

Learning Outcomes

After watching this video, you should be able to:

  • Differentiate between teaching methods and teaching strategies
  • Describe four methods that math teachers can use to present mathematical content
  • Discuss four strategies that math teachers can use in the classroom

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