The Best Way To Teach Math

I read an article that expressed extreme dislike (understatement) for the Everyday Math curriculum.  This is the same curriculum we currently use in school and was the same I used in my last school, as well as another of the schools I have taught in.

Do I love it?  No. Do I loathe it?  No.  I actually find it to be quite adequate as a basis for developing math skills within a class of students IF you make a few adjustments and additions to support student learning.  Having taught in one school where your progress through the math book was monitored on a day by day basis with repercussions for not being in line with ‘state expectations’, I know that words like adjustments and additions are challenging if not impossible to entertain.  If you are fortunate enough to work in a school that allows you the freedom to teach and facilitate learning amongst your students AND uses the Everyday Math curriculum, here are some points I have picked up along the way…

  • If you teach in an IB school, you are going to be asked to look for ways to authentically integrate data handling, measurement and geometry into your units of inquiry.  This is difficult but not impossible to do if the basis of your math program is EDM.  I haven’t done it yet, but I would love to sit down and look for the connections between these areas of math and our units and pull them into their own ‘math unit’.
  • Again, for IB school teachers, you are not expected to integrate number, pattern and function into your units of inquiry.  Think of these components of math as the ‘alphabet’ – addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, percentages…these all should be taught in their own right and EDM provides multiple ways of sharing the ‘why’ behind these processes.
  • Use your discretion!  As a teacher, you can decide how you present the content to your students.  I find the EDM methods for some things quite confusing.  I also find some of them really help me explain the ‘why’ to kids who then really get it.  If I have kids who are already solid in a method that works for them, great!  Just like we make kids eat a balanced diet, I ask my kids to at least follow along but the freedom is theirs to use whichever method works for them -mostly it is the one they are comfortable with but sometimes they will change it up and go with something new that makes even more sense to them.
  • Play the games – or at least some of them.  They are great for engaging discussion and when disagreements arise, perfect grounds for ‘forcing’ kids to demonstrate and explain their understanding of a concept.
  • Don’t start at the very beginning of each lesson.  It is just a guide, a plan.  It doesn’t say that if you don’t follow it precisely, the world will end!  There is actually a lot of good problem solving and analytical thought required in much of the enrichment and study link pages.  Flip things around and have students work collaboratively on these in class when they are supported by yourself and other students and can engage in discussion.
  • Use the Khan Academy!  It is brilliant.  I can’t figure out why more people don’t use it.  I have had a few parents say they don’t like it.  That they don’t want their child sitting in front of a computer and “can’t they just have a worksheet for once?”.  Seriously?  Who doesn’t want quality online support by way of the videos, hints that show the ‘how’ of solving a problem, instant feedback on their work and some really fun badges!  If you assign Khan videos/exercises for homework, your students are prepared for the more analytical problem solving challenges at school that ask them to apply their understanding.    We are fortunate, here in Boise, to have Sal Khan coming to town to share his thoughts on the changing face of education.  Educators were asked to share their experiences with the Khan Academy – here is an excerpt from my letter:

I never liked math as a kid.  As a teacher, I love it.  I love the mystery of it, the methods and the madness!  I am really grateful to Sal and his Academy for helping me develop a greater love for math.  I love that my kids get the chance to challenge themselves and review their work on a regular basis.  I love that the videos really explain the concepts in a clear way.  I love that I have more time for doing and less need for telling.  I love that I can see my kids whiz off into the math matrix with a huge interest and passion for developing their math skills.  It is “cool” to love math in my classroom and I have had kids log on each week, on average, for about 2 and half to 3 hours between Monday and Thursday nights.  The “requirement” is 15 minutes a night.

I think my own classroom math program could do with some work.  I would like to be a little more dedicated to integrating with our units in a more meaningful way and relying less on the unit tests at the end of each unit of work in the EDM book.  I would love there to be a few more hours in the day so we could play more of the games together.  Perhaps these could also become homework tasks?  What I would also like to do is to focus more time and importance on remembering to talk math with kids.  This article reminded me that more important than which book or website your ideas come from, make sure you are engaging kids in math related discussions – even (or especially) when it is not ‘math’ time.  A great way to do this with kids is to tap into the booming market of infographics.  They are everywhere and are a perfect way to bring math into the discussion.  Take a look at these as examples:

I see two uses for these – discussion and inspiration for creation.  I can already hear a few cries of ‘but we don’t have the technology to do that!”.  Who says you need technology to make an infographic? Ultimately, it is a graphic that shares information (we used to call those ‘charts’ or ‘diagrams’ or even ‘graphs’ when I was at school).  There are people in the wings, ready to launch infographic capabilities to the masses: here are ten sites you could use, a great resource called visual.ly, or five kinds of infographics and free tools to make them.  (I can see another post coming soon after I try some of these out!).

Until then, take a leaf out of the book of this Portugese design firm, who created the following ‘low tech’ infographics that are awesome and totally do-able in any classroom and would again, encourage and stimulate mathematical conversations both in their construction and sharing:

What works for you in your math classroom?  Or as a parent, what works for you at home?

I know people may have extreme feelings towards Everyday Math, and if I were given no leeway in how to implement in my classroom, if I were not allowed to supplement where necessary (in my professional opinion) and to skip parts that seem somewhat pointless, then I might have some of those feelings too. Words like accountability and consistency are just the words that got Everyday Math its stronghold in many schools.  In order to have a prescribed set of units of work, complete with tests that even a muppet could pick up and spew forth over the the classroom, schools needed to subscribe to ‘something’ – and Everyday Math has become that ‘something’ for many schools.   What is missing – and can’t even be found by substituting the Khan Academy (gasp!) – is good math teaching.  I am not sure which comes first but if teachers were more confident in teaching math, pulling from a variety of resources to create a balanced math diet, student performance in math would rise, parents anxiety about their child’s level of achievement would dissipate  and administrators would breathe, have confidence in their faculty and let them do their job.

Am I going to throw my hands up in the air and rage against the Everyday Math machine?  At this stage no.  Am I going to blindly plod through each page in the text (do I even have to answer that one?). Ultimately, I trust that educators and administrators and parents can work together for the greater good – the kids.

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2 thoughts on “The Best Way To Teach Math

  1. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long
    comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t
    show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all
    that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

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