I recently attended the Annual Conference of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in San Antonio and came away invigorated and hopeful about our children’s future in math education. The creativity and passion on exhibit within the many sessions and workshops was impressive. I had numerous conversations with awesome teachers that eagerly shared some incredibly inventive lessons they use in their classes.
To help kids with math, well-intentioned teachers often turn to non-traditional teaching methods. They use music and movement to involve the whole body. They use hands-on materials, such as popsicle sticks to help the students understand tens and hundreds. They use flip books, rhymes, and art. Yet we still have many children that “don’t get” math and feel like they cannot “do” math. With all this time and energy put in by some many well-intended people, what is the issue the keeps kids from becoming fluent in mathematics?
We could look at the logistics of teaching. It’s not easy to facilitate a math discussion. Six-year-olds are prone to goof around and popsicle sticks may end up in their ears, taking away from precious teaching time. Instructional time can be lost while a teacher is setting up a musical lesson. Innovative methods can be more challenging to implement than traditional lessons, and it could be that some teachers just aren’t doing them right.
We don’t want kids going to school and doing math worksheets all day. We all want kids to view mathematics as something that’s interesting and engaging and useful. By blending the creativity of great teachers with knowledge of mathematics education research, teachers can provide lessons that motivate, excite, inspire and have a real impact on student learning. Teachers who are able to provide just the right lessons at just the right time, using research and their creativity, end up with lessons that kids enjoy and they will develop deep mathematical understanding.
This partnership between researchers and teachers produces what is called for in Principles to Action (2010) when it states, “An excellent mathematics program requires effective teaching that engages students in meaningful learning through individual and collaborative experiences that promote their ability to make sense of mathematical ideas and reason mathematically” (p.7).
The researcher can provide the expertise in the effective ways for developing mathematics for all students and the learning progressions of children. The teachers can provide the expertise at implementing lessons in creative ways within the classrooms with their kids. Teachers using the research in mathematics education, take the high level academic world and transform it amazing lessons for their students. They bring energy and knowledge into their classrooms, creating places where students are engaged in problem solving, excited about math, feel confident about their growing abilities, and want to do more.