- Effective math instruction and learning requires more engaging methods of teaching, considering students, especially girls and students of color, flourish when exposed to more interactive lessons, according to a recent report released by 100Kin10, a nationwide effort to recruit more STEM educators.
- Learning math in elementary school requires students to internalize concepts and should build on their natural curiosity, requiring educators to shift instruction from rote learning — often focused on memorization and associated with anxiety that comes with standardized testing — to more authentic methods of instruction, the report says.
- School administrators and district leaders should also rethink the role of the elementary teacher to allow for more specialization, prioritize math professional development, and help bridge the disconnect between how teachers are prepared to teach and what effective math learning actually requires, the authors recommend.
In an era of high-stakes assessments, many teachers are expected to teach district or school-mandated curricula with an emphasis on improving test scores, allowing very little flexibility in methods of instruction. However, Talia Milgrom-Elcott, executive director of 100Kin10, points out that when math is made interesting and relevant, students are more likely to engage with the material and their learning will reflect in better test scores.
“This is being seen across the board in the STEM teacher shortage — that if learning is rote and not relevant then no one is curious,” Milgrom-Elcott says. “How kids experience it reflects in the test scores. If we make it omnipresent and authentic, it’ll become a part of their lives and that shines through in their test scores.”
In fact, experts say there is increasing evidence that students respond better when learning is relevant, but shifting to such instruction requires collaboration between districts and teacher preparation programs, as well as ongoing professional development.
In one example, the Los Angeles Unified School District collaborates with the University of California, Los Angeles, Mathematics Project, a professional development (PD) program that prepares math teachers with a "cognitively guided instruction" approach. Currently, over 100 teachers in 12 schools are participating in a pilot and will eventually be able to continue the professional development work on their own in their schools. The project will spread to more than 200 schools.
Other districts with successful elementary math PD programs include the Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) in Florida and Chicago Public Schools (CPS). HCPS created the Math Leadership Academy to focus on "exploring the meaning of standards, instructional implications, and strategies to push students’ thinking forward" instead of "notating lessons and page numbers." CPS partnered with a local foundation and three universities to pilot the Elementary Math Specialist Program.
The report's authors say schools must prioritize such PD programs and move toward research-based math curricula that integrate authentic instructional practices. They also note that many school districts, including the Guilford County Schools in North Carolina, have seen significant gains in student learning by using Common Core-aligned Eureka Math.