Four ways to accelerate math learning

By on July 18th, 2013

Math LearningIn my ten years experience as an educator, I’ve been in a lot of discussions with colleagues about how math can progress at a satisfying and comfortable pace. We argue about whether students need more practice or more exploration, whether to review or proceed through the curriculum.

It can be difficult to find the balance between teaching slow enough to make it easy and fast enough to make it where you want to go. In response to this debate I’ve listed four ways that educators can accelerate student learning while keeping math fun.

1. Know the Place for Fundamentals
Math builds upon itself, beginning with fundamental concepts like counting, addition and subtraction and gradually building toward an understanding of more complicated ideas like geometric theorems and the quadratic formula. Math teachers know that students who don’t have a strong foundation will inevitably crumble at some point. But don’t let students get buried in drilling and drilling basic skills forever. Sometimes, when a student hasn’t fully grasped the concept of a lowest common multiple, they will figure it out when they have to apply it to adding fractions. Just don’t let students forget what concepts they still can improve on.

2. Allow students to learn independently
When students are given the freedom to work math problems that they find meaningful, they become more engaged in their own education. Educators may be concerned that giving students this much flexibility will allow them to slack off, but adaptive learning technology can easily combat this issue. Adaptive learning software helps students become proficient math thinkers by tailoring instruction to individual academic abilities. Students who are ready to leap forward can do so, while those that need deeper exploration in more fundamental concepts get the chance. Either way, good software tailors the experience to the student and makes it fun.

3. Make time for small group learning
According to UNESCO, research has shown that allowing students to work in small groups to complete various classroom tasks can accelerate student learning. While small-group work shouldn’t encompass the entire class time, it can be useful for discussing and discovering important mathematical concepts. Learning can accelerate when students share their realizations with each other, and develop more complete ideas by working together. In schools that use a blended learning model of education, small group work can be a great supplement for online learning and whole class discussions.

4. Give students an active role in their education
Teachers should encourage students to take an active role in making their learning experience both robust and efficient. They can show students the class data, identify areas where they are struggling or excelling, and share the class calendar and expectations with them. Students should understand why it is important to stay focused and eliminate downtime in the classroom. They should be allowed to take ownership of their learning by working with their teachers to develop a plan for academic success.

A Continuous Improvement Framework Great educators always have a variety of tools and techniques for keeping their class up tempo and engaging. The right activities and programs implemented at the right times can keep the learning fun and moving forward. If you’re searching for more tools and techniques for your classroom or just want to learn more about ed-tech math learning, check out our latest white paper, Making Math Work: K-8 Blended Learning.

  • siouxgeonz

    LIke your list, tho’ I might have included a little something about making sure those concepts and meanings are understood; that students are making connections between getting the right answers and what the math means. So, when a student gets to work with the visual delights in Dreambox, make sure the connection between that and those plain-ol’-equations is solid…

    • Joe Trahan

      You’re absolutely right! It’s the connection between the different elements of math that are the most important. Both in Dreambox, and in my own teaching, we spend a lot of time letting students build their own concepts: what are the basic rules and principals of multiplication, and how does it cross with concepts like place value. But the Standard Algorithm for multiplication must also be explored, and the richest conversation can come from why the steps of the algorithm work the way they do, for what cases is the algorithm the most efficient, and how do we know our answer is probably correct. In my opinion, the math class is as much for exploring these connections as it is for teaching kids to perfect the algorithm (or the colorful explorations built by Dreambox) in the first place. As just one example.