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Math Interventions that Help Build Foundational Skills

November 29, 2012


For many struggling students, high quality classroom instruction isn’t enough; these students require targeted math interventions designed to address the gaps in their understanding. An effective intervention will address the specific needs of the student while providing additional opportunities to build a strong foundation of math skills. There are many effective research-based interventions, including:

Applied problem solving Becoming proficient at grade level problem solving skills is a major goal of elementary mathematics instruction. Students must be able to apply basic math skills to larger, more complex problems. However, many struggling math students lack the basic problem solving skills needed to successfully complete applied problems. A strategy for problem solving is an effective math intervention for students that need direct instruction on solving applied math problems

Teaching students a simple set of steps to follow with every math problem will help them construct their own understanding and devise their own strategies. An example of basic problem solving steps may be:

  1. Understand the problem – students determine what the problem is asking and what information is provided.
  2. Devise a plan – students choose a strategy for the problem such as analyzing data, making lists, or drawing a diagram.
  3. Carry out the plan – students follow the plan and then check for errors.
  4. Look back at the problem – students revisit the problem, decide if their solution is reasonable, and determine if any part of the problem solving process requires further attention.

Use of virtual manipulatives The use of virtual manipulatives is fairly new but is a highly effective intervention for struggling math students. Used in tandem with problem solving, math analysis, or basic facts, the manipulatives provide the students a dynamic visual representation of the math concepts. This helps deepen the student’s understanding by discovering and constructing mathematical principles and relationships. Controlling a manipulative with a slide, flip, or turn can unlock understanding.

DreamBox offers a wide variety of virtual manipulatives that link directly with the skills and standards students are practicing. These help teachers adapt the DreamBox program for differentiated instruction and meet the intervention needs of individual students. Since the manipulatives are dynamic, they offer immediate feedback to the user that is helpful and will boost further understanding.

Explicit time drills Although elementary students have long been expected to gain automaticity with basic math facts, the use of explicit time drills has recently been adopted as an effective small group math intervention. Different than standard math fact practice, these drills rely on smaller segments of time with ongoing feedback from the instructor. For example, students are asked to complete as many problems as possible in the first minute before the teacher calls time. At the end of the first minute the students circle the last problem completed and receive feedback from the teacher on their accuracy. This process continues for five one-minute segments. Over time, students have the chance to assess their growth and improve their basic computational skills.

What are some other math intervention strategies that build a strong foundation of math skills?


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