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5 Back to School Tips for Building a Strong Math Program

Posted by Cindy Bryant

Aug 19, 2014 6:00:00 AM

For many of you the new school year has already begun, and others of you are in the starting gates just waiting for the bell to sound to begin the 2014 – 2015 school year!  All of you know the importance of the first few weeks of school in setting the tone for the entire year.  So as you begin your school year, I’d like to offer five suggestions that set the tone for maximizing opportunities for all students to learn mathematics throughout the school year.


1. Embrace and
convey a growth mindset to students from day one! 

Research has shown that students’ mindsets have a direct influence on their grades and that teaching students to have a growth mindset raises their grades and achievement test scores significantly (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007; Good, Aronson, & Inzlicht, 2003).  And this is particularly important for students who are laboring under a negative stereotype about their abilities (Blackwell, et al., 2007; Good, et al., 2003; Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002).

2. Foster and model a "perseverance in problem solving and productive struggle" attitude for students!

Hiebert and Grouws (2007), use the term productive struggle to refer to the “effort to make sense of mathematics, to figure something out that is not immediately apparent.” Teaching that embraces and uses productive struggle leads to long-term benefits, with more students able to apply their learning to new problems and situations. (Kapur, 2010). It is important for teachers to accept that struggle is important to learning mathematics, convey this message to students, and allow time for them to try to work through uncertainties when solving a problem.

 3. Assure that students know the learning goals and expectations set forth for them – what they will be expected to know and be able to do.

Research conducted over the last twenty-five years consistently supports the notion that having high expectations for all, including clear and public standards, is a key to closing the achievement gap between advantaged and less advantaged students. The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) emphasize the importance of a focus on only the most critical topics in a grade or course, a coherent link within and across grades, and an emphasis on conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and applications. The Standards for Mathematical Practice identify processes and proficiencies that students use as they engage in problem solving and reasoning that helps them to develop habits of mind that enable them to reason about the world from a quantitative and spatial perspective (Levasseur & Cuoco, 2009).  The CCSSM content and practices should be at the heart of the standards or learning goals that you identify for your students.

4. Employ a variety of engaging strategies and resources within lessons and learning activities.

Shellard and Moyer (2002) identify three critical components of effective mathematics instruction: “Teaching for conceptual understanding, developing children’s procedural literacy, and promoting strategic competence through meaningful problem solving investigations.” Conceptual understanding lessons include purposeful classroom discussions, as well as the use of other forms of verbal, visual, and written communication.  Balka, Hull, and Harbin Miles describe specific ways students demonstrate conceptual understanding in What Is Conceptual Understanding?

5. Monitor instruction and learning regularly and often using a variety of monitoring tools and assessments.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics identifies specific things to look for in terms of what the teacher and students are doing in rich engaging mathematics classrooms in the Administrator’s Guide: Interpreting the Common Core State Standards to Improve Mathematics Education (2011).  For additional mathematics classroom observation and monitoring tools check out the Common Core Look-fors (CCL4s) App for purchase, as well as our free Mathematical Practices: The Pathway to Mathematical Literacy webinar materials and resources.

For additional information on how to build a strong math program, check out our latest free guide!

building a strong math program

Topics: Resources, Teaching & Learning

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