By Teachers, For Teachers
April is Mathematics Awareness Month. The theme for this year is Mathematics, Magic and Mystery. This theme celebrates Martin Gardner, a renowned mathematician who inspired many enthusiasts to engage in mathematics. It also features thirty days of articles and videos on mathematical magic tricks, puzzles, illusions and more. You can find an activity calendar on Mathaware.org.
Since math is an integral part of our students’ curriculum, it is important that educators have a firm understanding of the implications of what we know about mathematics. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, educators should follow 11 principles. Here we will take a brief look at each of them.
Students’ active involvement is the cornerstone in which they learn to construct their own mathematical meaning. Teachers must provide students with hands-on experiences and use manipulatives to encourage and promote active involvement.
Children learn best when they are presented with mathematical topics that are appropriate for their age. Teachers play a critical role in determining what is appropriate. They must provide an environment that helps their students recognize and make connections to mathematics.
Math programs must be organized in a way that is understandable to students. Since math includes procedural and conceptual knowledge, it is crucial to build on a students’ previous knowledge. For example, a student cannot estimate the distance in meters if they do not know what a meter is. Teachers must look ahead to see what will be expected of their students in future grades.
In order to stimulate a deeper understanding of mathematics, teachers must model and use manipulatives, as well as provide students with real-world examples. Precision in mathematical language is just as important as solving a problem. Students need to communicate with their peers and teachers, the oral language of mathematics.
Questions are an essential element in learning mathematics. Students should feel free to ask questions, as well as teachers should know when to ask questions to facilitate thinking and learning. Teachers should encourage students to ask questions because it is an integral part of the learning process.
Research shows that students learn best when presented with a combination of examples and non-examples of a mathematical concept. For example, if students were learning about a circle, a plate can illustrate this concept. It can also illustrate circumference, area and radius. Additional models can be presented, such as a coin, ring, or a tire. Many examples and non-examples can be shown to aid in learning about a circle.
Research has shown that the way students think or believe about themselves as mathematical learners, affects their performance and influences their behavior when they do mathematics. Teachers can encourage students to become more aware of their mathematical thinking. If a student is scared of word problems, they need to be aware, and use their metacognitive knowledge to work slowly when a word problem arises.
A students’ attitude about mathematics is greatly influenced by their teacher. If their teacher is enthusiastic about teaching math, they are more likely to produce students who like math. Furthermore, if teachers put a great value on critical thinking, then critical thinking will be viewed as important by their students.
Math anxiety is the fear of mathematics. Teachers can help students deal with math anxiety by encouraging students to talk about their feelings, presenting a positive attitude, modeling problem-solving strategies, and providing positive mathematical experiences.
Research suggests that when it comes to mathematics, teachers may treat boys and girls differently. To eliminate gender biases, teachers can encourage girls to pursue a career in mathematics, call attention to female roles in math, have equal expectations of both boys and girls, and make sure the boys do not dominate the class discussions.
Retention is when the amount of knowledge a student has is kept. This knowledge can be forgotten if it isn’t used regularly. Research suggests that teachers can improve mathematical retention by establishing connections. Research shows that student’s gain a better understanding when mathematical ideas are related to each other and the real-world.
In lieu of Mathematics Awareness Month, these practical principles for teaching mathematics should be the cornerstone of all instructional teaching. Teachers must establish an environment where students feel comfortable asking questions, activity participating, and experiencing learning and constructing mathematics.
National Council of Teachers Mathematics (nctm.org)
“Helping Children Learn Mathematics,” Reys, Lindquist, Lambdin, Smith, Suydam, sixth edition, 2001
How will you honor and celebrate Mathematics Awareness Month? Do you agree with the principles listed above? Feel free to leave a comment in the section below. We would love to hear your thoughts.
Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.