Learning

Maria is a second-grader who has a lot going for her at school. She is a strong reader and well-liked by her peers. However, sometimes she struggles in math. Long directions and multi-step problems can be challenging; it’s difficult for her to hold on to multiple pieces of information in working memory. Maria is aware of these challenges, as her teacher and parents have had conversations with her about them. From these conversations, she also knows that she has several strengths in math. She has a strong number sense and a good grasp of spatial relationships, which help her to be successful when working on problems involving shapes. Even though she knows that she is a good math student, she is aware that there are also certain areas in math where she might need extra help and that she needs to work on them to make improvements.
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You may ask yourself, “Who in my class has the potential to do well in math?” The resounding response must be that all children can succeed in math and even find pleasure in doing mathematical tasks (Boaler, 2016). Proficiency in mathematical concepts and competency with mathematical skills are not singular to a particular child, nor is there a certain group of children predisposed to be mathematicians (Boaler, 2016). Math is for ALL; it should be inclusive, transcending labels such as gender, classification (i.e., general education and special education) and ethnicity, among others.
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Games are fun. Games are also challenging. Developing a strategy, improving skills, the ups and downs of winning and learning—these all are important components of games. When students engage in mathematical games, many don’t necessarily realize they are doing or learning mathematics but when students practice or apply something they already know or understand, there is growth.
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In our October Math for All blog, Charlene Marchese wrote that unfinished learning should be addressed by engaging the whole child in grade-level content. Her emphasis on the whole child resonates powerfully. As the 2021–2022 school year progresses through winter, uncertainty, hardship, and trauma continue or are worsening for many students. Surveys and early clinical data show increased rates of youth anxiety, depression, emergency room visits related to mental health, and suspected suicide attempts during the pandemic (Chatterjee, 2022; Office of the Surgeon General, 2021; U.S. Department of Education, 2021). So many students are struggling socially and emotionally, as well as academically.
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Three-Act Tasks. Notice and Wonder. Estimation 180. Math Talk. We learn about these leading practices for mathematics education in publications, on social media, and during professional learning events. Many educators find that these strategies are transforming today’s classrooms through increased engagement, constructive risk-taking, and rigorous problem-solving. We may be curious: From a cognitive development viewpoint, why are these techniques so effective?
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As students settle into the 2021-2022 academic year, the world is still in the midst of a pandemic and continued uncertainty. We know that students’ school experience over the last 18 months has been challenging and that there is overwhelming worry among teachers that students have entered their mathematics classrooms without exposure to and/or mastery of previous grade-level mathematical skills and concepts. While there is a great deal of variability in the learning students have brought with them and significant unpredictability about more school disruptions to the school year, one thing is certain: schools need to address students’ unfinished learning while engaging the whole child in grade-level content.
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What. A. Year. Pandemic, political upheaval, shuttered small businesses, separation from family and friends, overwhelmed hospitals, record-setting weather, and closed school buildings are just a few of the lemons we have faced. We remember those whose journey ended during these challenges, offer sympathy to those who lost loved ones and compassion to those grappling with the trauma of the past year.
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There has been much media coverage recently about “learning loss” that has occurred during the pandemic. Such reports often reference studies that have attempted to predict or measure student performance in reading and mathematics using  common assessment instruments such as the NWEA Map Test (e.g., Kuhfeld et al., 2020) or iReady (Curriculum Associates, 2021). Findings show that, compared to previous school years, students perform lower on these assessments in both reading and mathematics. These studies also show that the most marginalized students are disproportionally affected, with drops in performance being greater for the lowest performing students, and for students attending schools that serve a majority of Black and Latinx students or schools in low-income zip codes.
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As the saying goes, “Maslow before Bloom.” These three words sum up decades of research that show how a sense of physical and emotional safety is the foundation for the development of social, emotional, and academic competencies. Learning environments that are emotionally supportive are associated with a variety of positive outcomes in mathematics classrooms, such as improved mathematics achievement, greater engagement, greater effort, and less fear of making mistakes.
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Mathematics is full of specialized vocabulary and technical terms, and becoming familiar with mathematical language is an important part of learning in this subject. Word walls are valuable tools that teachers can use to support students’ use of mathematical language as they express their thinking when speaking and writing. Word walls are particularly helpful for multilingual learners who are learning English.
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