Looking for the best elementary school math curriculum out there? Wondering whether Singapore Math is better than Everyday Math? How about Saxon versus Making Math Meaningful?
You can survey teachers and families and students all you want, but you’ll never get anywhere asking this kind of question. That’s because the best math program is not found in a certain curriculum or in a particular textbook. The best math program is found in the teacher who uses a dynamic, complex strategy with math, no matter what core curriculum has been handed down.
For the teachers out there—and as well for the parents who are looking at potential schools (or potential teachers) for their kids—here’s my top ten list for ways to create the best math classroom possible:
10: Choose Multiple Source—Never become enslaved to a specific textbook: no matter what the subject, fealty to the textbook can be disastrous and turn you into a frustrated, stale teacher in no time. Besides, no math textbook or curriculum is a panacea for all kids. Keep the tone fresh and alive with a different look, different layouts, different materials, so that your students remain surprised and delighted.
9: Make Manipulatives—Get students to help you with this—bring in the egg cartons, playing cards, dice, and coins. Get the beads and string going. There are hundreds of math games to play with simple, everyday items. Put math right there in their hands, available to touch and feel.
8: Seize the Teachable Moment—Learning should never be limited to just those brief segments of time when students seem quiet and ready to listen. Learning should happen throughout the day, especially during transitions, or even in PE or recess. There is a math problem, a quick contest or game, a calculation, a summary, a reminder that can be assigned to any student, at any moment—there is always time for creativity.
7: Get Kinesthetic—Teaching multiplication and division can be taught a lot earlier than you think, by clustering kids into small but equivalent groups in front of the class, then having them move as a group closer to other groups then pull away, with the goal of understanding multiplication and division–by counting themselves, kids get it! There are so many permutations of this clustering approach to learning computation, geometry, the associative property, you name it… and it’s fun!
6: Check the Clock—Don’t think that fractions have to wait till third or fourth grade. You can get them going in Kindergarten with all kinds of clock questions and games… quarter past, half past, or any such division of the numbers on the clock can start them going on fractions right away. The clock is a great tool for all those transitional, lining-up moments.
5: See Assessments as Instructional—Don’t dish out grades just to put a number in the grade book or to place students along a bell curve. Tests/assessments should be instructional—that means instructive for you, giving you the vital info necessary to know how to accommodate certain students or how to guide your next class or how to group the students the next day. Certainly don’t assess in order to pile up grades in the opening weeks of the school year. This is the discovery phase, where you are calibrating where you need to go with this class or how you need to style/structure your teaching.
4: Go Interactive—Get that smartboard or document camera going in order to keep the students transfixed and eager to put their fingers up on the board to work through problems. Interactivity means engagement for all—and there are tons of fun activities through loads of “smart” apps and sites.
3: Create Complexity—Once you know their learning strengths and styles, you can have several teams operating simultaneously, by grouping them into learning types or skill sets or challenge levels, then assigning the appropriate math problems. You can mix and match students in ways that will keep them on their toes.
2: Supplement with Digital Solutions—Want a surefire way to differentiate instruction? Turn to some of the new dynamic software out there, like TenMarks, and get students on the computers and moving at their own pace.
1: Excite with Challenge—Always, all year long, be looking for challenge problems to try out with the students. Keep the tone of the class upbeat and fun… trying and failing should be celebrated… getting kids to stick with a problem—sometimes called developing stamina—can be cause for celebration as well. The bar will be raised at different heights for different kids, and that’s okay. Soon, no matter what their ability level, you’ll have them all striving for a challenge, and intrinsic motivation will take over.