How do you find the parents of your students? Are they helping their children to learn, or are they more of a hindrance?

Some parents can be incredibly difficult to cope with, of course. And sometimes an assertive manner and explaining the boundaries between their opinions and your professional work is called for.

But apart from those difficult parents, I strongly believe that parents should be kept informed about what we are teaching, and generally we should involve them as partners in their children’s education.

If you are going through a hard time coping with the parents of your students, please forgive me if my comments are off base or have caused you any offence; that is never my intention.

But if you agree that working with parents is a good thing, do share your tips below on how to achieve this goal.

What are pseudocontexts, and should K-6 math teachers be concerned about them?

I came across the term in Dan Meyer’s excellent blog, in which he explores better ways of engaging students in learning math, and calls out “fake math” and poor teaching. You should go check out Dan’s work, I find it really challenging and encouraging.

As a publisher of educational content for K-6 math, I am deeply concerned about students’ recognition of the importance and the usefulness, the utility of the math they learn.

This means that I am always looking for ways to show students examples of math in real life. But does that mean I have to restrict my examples to ones where someone is asking a specific math question that matches the topic students are learning, or can I ask questions which someone might ask, but probably didn’t?

What do you think? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share your thoughts.

Recent examples of “math in real life contexts” are found in my Where’s the Math? video series, which you can see here. Am I guilty of introducing pseudocontexts?

Are you getting a little tired of other people interfering in how you teach in your classroom?

I see around the world teachers being put under greater and greater pressure to perform, as if they were mere employees or servants of the state. And I’m over it!

Most politicians have never taught a day in their lives, from what I can tell. How dare they act like teachers should somehow get more motivated to achieve higher results, for the good of the nation?

Now, of course the curriculum is important, as I say in the video. But bureaucrats and nit-pickers seem to think that teachers need to stop being so opinionated, and just accept that they are there to do the will of their masters. Arrggghhhh!!! What doctor, engineer or lawyer would accept such treatment?

So let’s stand up for professional autonomy in our classrooms, go out and do an outstandingly excellent job, for our students, their families, and of course our nations.

Do you use technology as much as you’d like to help your K-6 students understand math? How do students respond to tech? Would they actually prefer old school resources?

Have you started using Snapchat yet? Would you like daily K-6 math videos to start conversations? Follow me: petes_classroom

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

The big message in the video is this: it’s not about the technology. A great teacher can use any resources, or none at all, to effectively teach students what they are ready to learn.

That said, we should test new technologies to see how they can help our students to learn. No technology is capable, in itself, of “revolutionizing learning” (how often do we hear that phrase?). But in the hands of a competent teacher, technologies open up new possibilities and new opportunities to present content to students in new ways.

Have you ever felt like banging your head on the wall when trying to get kids to learn something? Do you feel you’re not up to the task of “getting through to these kids” and making them learn something?

Here’s a simple suggestion from me: trust the kids’ natural abilities to make sense of their world.

Don’t sit on your hands and leave it all in the kids’ hands, of course: that isn’t what I mean.

But allow the capabilities built into every human being to “kick in” in response to your input. It’s your job to create the best atmosphere for learning to take place; you just don’t have to make it happen due to your force of character, cajoling, pleading or other desperate tactics.

Teachers recently told us, of all the K-6 math topics in the curriculum, which one they would most like help with.
Care to guess which topic came to the top of the list?

Most Challenging K-6 Math Topic

The “winner”: Place value. Close behind? Operations, followed by Number facts.

Since these three broad topics form the bulk of the mathematics curriculum, especially if you include fractions, perhaps this isn’t a big surprise. But another perspective is that, while these three form the backbone of the math curriculum, they are possibly the most abstract and the most difficult for children to understand.

Most Requested Resources

The followup question we asked was “If support for the above K-6 math topic were available, which of the following components would you like included?” The following possible components were listed:

Teacher information about recommendations for teaching the topic

Pretest to assess students’ learning prior to starting the topic

Video to set the scene / prompt discussion / show math in real life contexts

Video for teacher on recommended teaching

Instructional video for students

Hands-on learning activities

Worksheets

Differentiation activities for various levels of ability

Homework sheets

Parents information to explain homework

Posttest to assess students’ learning after learning the topic

The results? The top request, made by 85% of respondents, was “Hands-on learning activities”, followed by “Differentiation activities for various levels of ability”, and then “Video to set the scene / prompt discussion / show math in real life contexts“.

I am encouraged to see that teachers we have contacted want their students to have experiences with hands-on activities to help them learn math. As we all know, math is a highly abstract discipline, and traditionally it was taught around the symbols, which themselves are linked abstractly to the numbers which they represent. So to provide children with physical, hands-on ways to represent and play around with numbers is the way to help them to understand the subject, in my view.

What Next?

We are now starting development of a new package of resources to support teachers in their teaching of K-6 math. We will start with a small beta product, and put it out to a small group of our best supporters. All being well, this will then become available to others, via this website.

If you would like to be notified of when the package is publicly available, click the box below:

Teach times tables to children in grades K-6: this is arguably one of the most important jobs a K-6 teacher has.

Why Teach Times Tables? Surely Calculators Make Memorization Redundant?

This sounds a little plausible, but I encourage you to stop and imagine this scenario: first, you have to imagine that you’re a child, around 10 years old. You haven’t had the experiences that your future adult self will have. You’ve been told by teachers that you don’t have to learn math facts by heart. You have a calculator in your desk, and you are encouraged to use it.

Now, picture this: you are working out the perimeter of a 6 by 8 rectangle using the formula “P = 2x(L + W)”.

Imagine This: You are a Child Whose Teachers Did Not Teach Times Tables

You remember you should add the length and width first, but you don’t know what six plus eight equals, since you never learned the addition facts by heart either. You look around in your desk and find the calculator, switch it on, look at the question again, press “8”, “+”, “6”, “=” and see “14” in the display. “What does that mean?” you think. Oh yes, that’s what “L + W” equals. Somehow you figure out the next step is to multiply 2 by the number you just found. You pick up the calculator, press “2”, “x”, then ask “What do I times this by?”.

You have forgotten the answer and you didn’t write it down, so you start again: “8”, “+”, “6”, “=”. This time you take note of the answer, “14”. You look back at the formula again, and press “2”, “x”, recall the previous answer again, “1”, “4”, “=”, and see the display shows “28”. You quickly write “28” in the space for the answer and move on to the next question. Oh look, it’s another perimeter question – it will be quicker this time, because you know the sequence of steps you have to take.

This is what happens if no-one takes the time to teach times tables. Notice that not only does this imaginary child take much longer to complete this simple question than it would have been if tables were memorized, the child is repeatedly interrupted in working through the question to carry out mechanical actions, mostly the pressing of calculator buttons, with little or no thought of why he or she is carrying out the process in the first place.

I promise you this: from today onward, I will not apologize for expecting students to memorize the times tables.

I’ve had enough. Students who don’t know the multiplication facts by heart will not achieve much success, if any, in their future math studies. So why don’t we do more to get our students to memorize facts?

Teach Times Tables: A True But Sad Story

In the video: The experience I had recently watching Year 5 kids trying to do a multiplication test without knowing the times tables illustrated this perfectly for me.

Students simply had no idea of the times tables, and so most of them resorted to drawing arrays of dots and then counting the dots from 1. Of course, this was much too slow, and in addition students frequently made mistakes.

Who knew? Math is important. Like, really, really important.

We shouldn’t even need to say this, surely? Our kids need to grow up being good at math.

Watch the video:

Western Nations Spend More on Math, and Get Lower Results

And yet, despite most ordinary folks agreeing that math is a vital part of kids’ schooling, in western democratic nations we seem to be spending less time on math teaching, and getting lower results.

If you’re a teacher I’m confident that you believe in the value of a good mathematical education. But at the same time, you’re far from being alone if you find students seem to be less engaged and less proficient at math as time goes on.

Do you need ammunition to make math excellence a priority for your students?

Think on this: in 2016, terrorists are as likely to carry a laptop as a bomb. And they are probably in a basement somewhere, not risking being found out in the open.
Want to try that line “We don’t really need to be all that good at math, now we all have smartphones” again? I thought not.

Math is Important: We Should Spend More Time on Math in School, Not Less

Lastly, it distresses me to hear people say that modern technology has taken the place of people good at math, and that we can cut back on hours spent in school learning math, to make room for more trendy subjects such as coding and technology. I believe that educators as a group should spread the message that math is important; and if anything, it’s more important than it was in the past, given the spread of technology into nearly every part of our lives.

Infants as young as six months recognize interesting shapes. And babies who show higher spatial reasoning skills do better in math at age four. This is good news for parents and carers who purposefully try to help their children understand the world around them in explicitly mathematical ways: developing better spatial reasoning in infancy should result in better understanding of math generally when they start school.

Watch the video for more:

In this study, babies between six and thirteen months were shown images on two screens, where on one screen pairs of images appeared in a symmetrical arrangement. This caught the babies’ attention, and using eye-tracking technology the researchers were able to measure how often and for how long they focused on the more interesting images, and so deduce relative levels of spatial reasoning.

The really encouraging news for parents and carers who want to give their babies a head start before they start school is that higher abilities in spatial reasoning were associated with better math results at age four.

Since spatial reasoning is not a fixed ability but can be taught, I know what I will be doing when I get the chance with my grandchildren; all parents should do the same!

What do you think?

Does trying to expand young infants’ awareness of the world around them in targeted ways really help prepare them for school success? Share a comment below.

Indigenous students in Australia typically lag two years behind other kids in math: a disappointing statistic by any measure. Dr Chris Matthews of Griffith University has come up with a new approach that shows great promise for connecting indigenous kids with mathematics.

Going further, I believe that this new method would help any kids of a non-mainstream background to understand math. Watch the video for more:

The approach recommended by Dr Matthews is explained by Prof Tom Cooper of the YuMi Deadly Centre at QUT, using the acronym RAMR:

Reality: connect first of all with students’ existing culture and interests. In the case of indigenous kids, this includes story telling and dance

Abstraction: come up with ways to turn stories and concerns into mathematical problems, equations and so on

Mathematics: invent mathematics in standard symbolic format to capture the original question or scenario

Reflect: consider the result and match the mathematical results with the original source situation and consider how well the mathematics enabled the solution for the problem, or explained a story in mathematical terms

[Click the link below to watch Prof Cooper’s explanation]

But a teacher who teaches students of non-indigenous but also non-mainstream backgrounds could adopt the same basic pedagogy, starting with those students stories, culture and questions that interest them.

Mathematics has sadly often been presented as the product of a lot of “old white males”, which for some students immediately puts them offside and makes math irrelevant and boring, in those students’ minds. This approach deals with this problem by starting with examples from the students’ own culture and background.

What do you think?

How should we teach math to students from backgrounds other than our own? Share a comment below.