Dive Brief:

  • The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics on Tuesday released two new “Catalyzing Change” reports focused on identifying better policies and approaches to equitably teaching mathematics in early childhood as well as elementary and middle school math. The reports highlight studies showing how a student’s grasp of math at age 5 predicts later success — not only in math, but also in other academic areas.
  • Recognizing the importance of equity early on and implementing strategies to ensure inclusion at these young ages is crucial for all students to thrive later. But that recognition should also continue into middle school with math instruction tailored to respond to developmental changes that happen during those years.
  • To improve students’ success and confidence in math, the Catalyzing Change reports recommend that educators:
    • Broaden the purposes of learning math.
    • Create equity in learning mathematics.
    • Implement equitable mathematics instruction.
    • Develop deep mathematical understanding.

Dive Insight:

Taking into account the purpose of math allows students to make connections they can understand. When English teacher Amy Schwartzbach-Kang co-taught trigonometry, for example, she had students develop stories about the math problems they were solving. The simple stories were written in a way that could be explained to a child.

She then took the idea of a story problem one step further and had students build backstories for the problems, tying multiple problems together in story form. Storytelling helps students understand the purpose of math and may build on their social-emotional learning skills. It can draw students into the subject and make them realize mathematical principles are all around them.

Another early way to hook students on math is to create a sense of awe through hands-on STEM activities. Incorporating both the process of math and its creative side will attract more students to the subject and related fields. The Boston Museum of Science’s “Engineering is Elementary” has been shared with 15 million 6- to 11-year-olds since 2003. It is designed to interest students in the principles of STEM, such as design and experimentation, before they decide they aren’t “math people.”

Students’ mindsets can influence whether they believe they are “math people.” Once they decide they aren’t good at math, they are more likely to migrate to the back of the class and not ask questions. Many teachers aren’t confident in math themselves and may pass their math aversion on to their students. Professional development for teachers who are uncomfortable with math could help students build their own confidence in the subject.

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