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Grade Your Kid's Math Class

"What to Look for in a Math Classroom" is reprinted with permission from the Annenberg/CPB Math and Science Project.

A math class should teach practical experiences in mathematical skills that are a bridge to the real world of jobs and adult responsibilities. This means going beyond memorization into a world of reasoning and problem solving.

Would you recognize a good math class if you saw one? Look for these changes from the traditional classroom to see if your child's school is preparing its students for the world outside.

What are students doing?

  • Interacting with each other as well as working independently, just as adults do at work.
  • Using textbooks as only one of many resources. Manipulatives, such as blocks and scales; and technology, such as calculators and computers, are useful tools, and students should be learning how and when to use them.
  • Becoming aware of how math is applied to real life problems, not just learning a series of isolated skills. And, as in real life, complex problems are not solved quickly.
  • Realizing that many problems have more than just one "right" answer. Students can explain the different ways they reach a variety of solutions and why they make one choice over another.
  • Working in groups to test solutions to problems. Students should be very involved, more than merely "listeners."
  • Learning how to communicate mathematical ideas to one another.
  • Working in a physical setting that promotes teamwork and helps kids challenge and defend possible solutions. Computers are only one way that students can interact with each other.
What are teachers doing?

  • Raising questions that encourage students to explore several solutions and challenging deeper thinking about real problems.
  • Moving around the room to keep everyone engaged and on track.
  • Allowing students to raise original questions about math for which there is no "answer in the book," and promoting discussions of these questions, recognizing that it may be other students who will find reasonable answers.
  • Using manipulatives and technology when it is appropriate, not just as "busy work."
  • Drawing on student discovery and creativity to keep them interested. The teacher knows that boredom is the enemy of learning.
  • Encouraging students to go on to the next challenge once a step is learned, understanding that not all students learn at the same pace.
  • Bringing a variety of resources into the classroom, from guest speakers to creative uses of technology.
  • Working with other teachers to make connections between disciplines to show how math is a part of every major subject.
  • Using assessments that reflect the way math is being taught, stressing understanding and problem-solving skills, not just memory.
  • Exploring career opportunities with students that emphasize mathematical concepts and applications.

Learning also takes place outside school. Thinking mathematically is critical to every life skill, from balancing a checkbook to understanding the newspaper. In today's jobs, people use math skills that require the ability to identify a problem, look for information that will help them solve the problem, consider a variety of solutions, and communicate the best possible solutions to others.

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