What Does Math Look Like in Today’s Classroom?

In our series Engaging Students with Productive Struggle, we showed you how math teachers use formative assessment to create classrooms that encourage perseverance, collaboration, and deep mathematical thinking. Watching these videos made me wonder, what does math look like in other classrooms today? How are teachers making shifts in the way they teach math? I asked some educators in our Teaching Channel community and here’s what they said:

Get Hands On

Our classrooms across the district are becoming a lot more hands on, including a school-wide Problem of the Month focus at many of our sites. Additionally, we have integrated Dreambox Learning district-wide in order to support students with concepts they may still struggle with at any level. (You can see this technology in use in this Teaching Channel video.)

— Robert Pronovost, Lead STEM Coordinator, Ravenswood City School District, CA

Encourage Collaboration

The Common Core has shifted how I teach math because I really try to get the mathematical practices — or what I call “thinking” — into the classroom as much as possible. My classroom is a very busy place, with students in small groups all of the time. I give the students multiple ways to experience the mathematics, such as print, presentations, videos, interactive sites, answers, and solutions. I challenge them to think about it, talk about it, and reason it out using a collaborative approach. We focus on problem solving of all types: simple, complex, application, and real world. Lessons blend over from one day to the next. The math in my classroom is messy, noisy, and looks a little like organized chaos, but there is a great deal of thinking going on.

— April Pforts, Math Teacher, Mt. Pleasant Community High School, IA

Make Mathematicians

For the past 20 years, I taught the steps and even the tips and tricks to remember to solve for answers. But let’s face it, I’m not teaching the kids of today to be calculators, I’m teaching them to be mathematicians! In my classroom, I hear first graders explain and justify their thinking on a daily basis. I see their ah-ha moments when they use a subtraction fact to solve a related addition fact, when they solve for missing addends explaining how and why, and when they can apply a pattern to subtract on a 100 chart. Our math classroom is tough, and we don’t always have an answer at first, but we continue to talk, use our resources, and problem solve.

— Jeanne Wright, First Grade Teacher, Cypress Creek Elementary, FL

Encourage Productive Struggle

For years, my fellow math teachers and I would discuss how our content was a mile wide and an inch deep. That feeling shifted when Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core Standards. This shift meant that I needed to become more of a facilitator of learning.

Now my students and I focus more on the how and why something — perhaps even a strategy — works. We focus on the meaning of things, such as parts of equations or solutions. I don’t teach my students to solve an equation in a particular way. I generate many more questions than I do answers, although I do guide them in discovering that their reasoning is solid. We discuss whether or not their approach works for this problem only or if it works all the time – and if it does, why? It’s not a matter of memorizing procedures or tricks anymore, but a deeper understanding of the meaning of the mathematics.​

— Susie Morehead, Math Teacher, Kenton County, KY

So, what does math look like in your classroom today? We’d love to hear from you! Share your responses below.

Gretchen Vierstra taught middle school for ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area. During her 15+ years in education, she’s also been a department chair, new teacher coach, curriculum developer, and policy analyst. She is an Education Content Manager at Teaching Channel.


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