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Math Blog

A K–8 resource to support deep comprehension of math skills and concepts

July 23, 2020 k-2-math-practices, 6-8-math-practices, other-professional-development, 3-5-math-practices

5 Ways to Update Methods & Strategies In Teaching Mathematics

Moving from onsite instruction to remote instruction (or a blend) has forced teachers to assess their methods and strategies in teaching mathematics. Teachers can use this new educational landscape to breathe new life into their teaching! In this post, I explore how incorporating new strategies into instruction is the quickest way to kick the digital disconnect some students may experience and keep them building their conceptual understanding of mathematics.


Adjusting Your Methods of Teaching Mathematics for Distance Learning

Summers spent assessing whether you're stuck in the same instructional routine or experiencing a teaching slump are gone, 2020 has ushered in the "age of Covid-19".

Social distancing measures flipped the education world upside down and educators have been called to adjust, innovate, and restructure.  A new school year is quickly approaching and math teachers are having to discover (and rediscover) new methods of teaching mathematics for distance learning. In order to effectively teach math in virtual instructional settings (or a hybrid schedule), teachers need to put in place both old and new strategies that will maximize student learning. 

Despite the whirlwind of change, I want to share a  tip sheet that outlines five timeless ways teachers can enhance their K–8 math instruction. Even if you are going to be teaching remote this new school year, this tip sheet is still relevant to you and a valuable resource to have in your teaching toolbox. Download it now! 


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Ways to Update Your Methods and Strategies of Teaching Mathematics

#1 Improve Your Use of Classroom Discourse

Creating rich classroom discussions is essential for your in-person or virtual classroom. To offset some of the harmful effects of long periods of social distancing, students need interaction with their teacher and with their peers. Classroom discourse will give students the interaction they need while also helping them improve their ability to communicate mathematics. A win for everyone!

Here are some things to remember:

  • To promote quality mathematics discussions, students need to understand why discourse is important.

  • Students need reassurance that although it can be unnerving to participate in discussions about mathematics, it is beneficial to their learning!
  • Establishing a learning environment that welcomes student involvement is the key to engaging students in discourse.

  • Teachers need to set the expectation that every student will contribute during math talk. Establishing expectations emphasizes that the class is a community of learners.
  • Active listening is an important component of any classroom, but in the math classroom it is crucial to comprehension! Without active listening, students will not be able to critique the reasoning of their peers or analyze how their understanding aligns with or differs from their classmates.

A challenge ALL teachers will face when working to promote classroom discourse is that many students, especially in during virtual lectures , tend to take on an observer role. 

When in an in-person classroom setting students are more likely to stay interested (or feign interest 😂), pick up on cues that they are required to participate, and be active listeners. Onsite instruction also makes it easier for teachers to assess which students are struggling to fully engage. Regardless of these benefits of teaching in-person, classroom discourse does not happen overnight and will have obstacles.

Creating rich classroom discussions will breathe life into your in-person or virtual math instruction!

Mathematical discourse in the virtual classroom is new territory for teachers and students. Because most K–8 students are use to the traditional classroom setting, we can expect the shift to a virtual setting will increase the number of "observers" in a class. 

So how can educators improve and promote quality classroom discourse?


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To have great discussions as an onsite or offsite class, teachers should consider think-pair-share activities, accountable talk strategies, and ways to draw out reluctant class participants.

Download a series of prompts  you can use to improve student interaction in your classroom!

If you are unfamiliar with these techniques, I would encourage you to read this post, which includes easy-to-implement strategies for accountable talk. 

Other strategies include:

The 60-Second Startle– Do something within the first 60 seconds of kicking off classroom discourse that will startle students into paying attention and snap them out of observer mode. Consider sharing a personal story, song, or riddle that highlights the real-world importance of the math topic you will be discussing!

Math Reporters– Make students hard-hitting math reporters in the in-person or virtual classroom. It doesn't matter if students are participating in asynchronous instruction or synchronous instruction, require them to report on various items in the math classroom. If students know they have to report, recount, or respond to something happening in recorded or live lectures, they are more likely to be active listeners. Students can record and upload 15-60 second clips reporting on various topics. For example, students could report:

  • Their response to a prompt
  • Showing how they got an answer
  • Explaining different ways to get the same answer
  • Remark on something in the lesson they learned or are confused about

Finally, use these videos to encourage discourse! Require students respond to each others math news reports with accountable discussion prompts. Their commentary should showcase their ability to construct viable arguments and to critique the reasoning of others. 

#2 Promote Students' Development of Procedural and Computational Fluency

With so much focus recently on conceptual understanding, modeling, and problem solving, it can be easy to forget that both procedural and computational fluencies are foundational to students’ long-term success in mathematics.

There are many online and commercial products available to help students develop these fluencies, but even if you don’t have the technology available, there are still ways to work on them. A couple of my posts provide some of these resources, and I hope that you will take advantage of them:

As you work with students to improve their fluency, remember that the activities you implement should be brief, engaging, and purposeful, and should be distributed throughout the school year. Practicing fluency should not be drudgery for students. It can be made fun! And that kind of fun atmosphere can help liven up your classroom.


#3 Use Real-World Problems

Modeling, reasoning, and problem solving are the goals of higher order thinking in the math classroom. Not only are the modern open response questions on high-stakes tests focused on these areas, but they are also one way that students can become engaged in math. Rich contextual problems can help students see why math is important and answer the question: “Why are we learning this?”

I know that many of the “real-world” problems in textbooks I have used are a bit flimsy such as: “Bob sold ½ of a 16 acre plot. He then sold ⅔ of the remaining piece. How much of the 16 acres remain unsold?” While valuable procedurally and for the purposes of reading, this is not the kind of rich context where students get involved with a personal connection to the problem.

Below are some printable activities that are great examples of real-world problem solving.

If you will be teaching remote, these printable PDFs can be converted via Google Drive so students can type directly into the worksheet. Check out Vocab Gal's tutorial for converting PDFs so they can be completed online. 

Or you can complete these activities when meeting virtually with small groups of students (camp fire groups). 

printable activities that are great examples of real-world problem solving

RAFT Writing Surface Area Activity

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printable activities that are great examples of real-world problem solving.

Bake Sale Math Activity

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printable activities that are great examples of real-world problem solving


Perfect Menu Shopping Activity

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printable activities that are great examples of real-world problem solving

Table-Setting Perimeter Problems

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#4 Using Virtual Instruction Time and Technology Effectively

Right now is a great opportunity to breathe new life into your classroom through the use of computers (most of us don't have a choice 😆 ). But remember, it’s not the fact that you are using technology, it’s how you incorporate it that makes all the difference.

All educators are having to rethink how to incorporate technology strategically and align it to your district grade-level goals. Virtual instruction does not mean abandoning traditional teaching methods, but it does mean we have to be smart about how we teach, assess, and execute activities.

For more ideas on ways to use virtual instruction time and technology effectively, check out this article!

#5 Implement the Standards for Mathematical Practice

I feel that one of the most valuable resources I have provided through the blog is the number of resources you can use to implement the Standards for Mathematical Practice. I hope you have seen these articles and downloadable resources, but here they are all in one place and organized by standard:







If your 2020-2021 school plans have you teaching in the virtual classroom, have students print the anchor charts on 8.5 x 11 copy paper and then put them in the front of their daily math journals (use page protecters). Now they have fabulous reference sheets they can easily access during class or when completing homework! The tip sheets and activities can be used at home by students to develop these practices.

In Summary

If we can take hold of these elements and put them into practice, or even deepen our use of them if we are already using them, then we will breathe new life into our lessons and build student confidence despite the changes in schools!

I know that when reflect on my own practice and think about how I can take it deeper to reach more students, I get more excited about my work.

By implementing these research-based practices, we will have a profound impact on our students. Just as our personal relationships do, our career can go through ups and downs. Educators can let the current "downs" overwhelm them... or use these circumstances to revitalize their classroom and deepen student comprehension and learning, I hope you can take advantage of the many resources shared in this article.

Good luck! We are in this together! 




This article is a companion piece to the webinar, Need Ideas to Update and Enhance Your Math Instruction? available for free on the Sadlier website. I hope you will take time to listen to Ellen Edmonds’ webinar, but this post will expand on the presentation and point you to some resources that can help you implement best practices and refresh, or even overhaul, your teaching.