How to be an effective primary school math teacher!

Since the adoption of the Common Core Standards, the internet has been buzzing about the "new math" that children are being exposed to in today's public schools. Mostly, you will see examples of multiplication and division problems, where students are performing ten different steps to solve a simple problem. As a practicing elementary school teacher, I can tell you firsthand that the problem is not the unpopular "Common Core." The problem is the abandonment of teaching practices and techniques that have proven to be effective. 

It is important for students to be able to solve problems using a variety of methods and strategies, but I've found that many of the textbook math series available today overcomplicate the art of teaching. There is no right or wrong way to do math. Our students should be exposed to multiple methods, and be able to choose how to solve problems based on their comfortability. Below, here are five effective strategies that lower primary math teachers can use in order to teach content to students in grades K-3. 

Strategy 1: Explicit direct and guided instruction

Explain in very simple terms what students should know, and why these skills are important to their eventual success in society. Model examples of the problem, and perform problems with them in a step by step manner. As you keep practicing with students, do less of the next problem, so that students begin to gain independence of the subject matter. 

Strategy 2: Peer instruction

Have students work with each other to solve complex problems. Oftentimes, two students can figure out the answer in two different ways. Have students share their thinking, and explain how they arrived to their conclusions. Sometimes, if the content you are teaching doesn't make sense to a student at first, another student may be able to explain your instruction in a simpler way.

Strategy 3: Using Manipulatives

Have students use counters, tens frames, digital clocks, and other math tools to complete their problems. This is a great strategy for visual and tactile learners in order for them to gain understanding of a topic. 

Strategy 4: Keep track of student achievements

Sometimes, students will need an extra push in motivation. If a topic becomes too hard, or if they are frustrated, they will not be able to focus in the way that you need them to. A strategy I've used is to display a chart in the classroom listing all of the student's prior math achievements, and another chart stating the goal that each individual student is working on. If a student sees how far he/she has come, he/she may feel confident when tackling tough concepts, and want to add to the list of achievements!

Strategy 5: Use student interests to guide content

When a boy in a former class was not interested in learning measurement, I used his love of football to relate the content to his personal life. The challenge problem I posed for him was to figure out how many inches were on a standard football field. With a buddy, they had to figure out how many inches were in a yard, and then figure out how many yards were in the field before adding all of the inches. I then had him make a field on construction paper using a centimeter ruler. The student became much more engaged when the content was meaningful to him on a personal level. 

If you're an elementary school teacher, I hope you can use some of the strategies above to guide your instruction! Please feel free to comment to this blog to let me know if any worked for you!

-Robert Hastings

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