Math Instructional Methods

A good foundation in mathematics is essential to success in today’s economy. Careers in technology, engineering, and many other industries rely on mathematics, and students without strong math skills risk missing out.

PISA data shows that U.S. students lag behind their international peers in math. While 55% of students in Shanghai and 16.5% of students in Canada reach the highest levels of proficiency, only 9% of students in the U.S. reach the same levels of achievement.

To boost students’ abilities in mathematics, high-performing schools increase the rigor of their curriculum, and focus on critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills, rather than simple memorization.

Best Practices in Mathematics Instruction:

1. Increase access to rigor in math curriculum. High performing schools increase the pace and rigor of their math instruction. Leading schools adjust the sequence and scope of the math curriculum to ensure that all students have the opportunity to take calculus by their senior year.

2. Build students’ critical thinking skills. Leading math educators focus on critical thinking and complex problem solving skills. Rather than drilling students on math concepts, they show students how to apply those concepts to complex problems. One quick win is to move away from multiple choice questions, and instead use short-answer questions that require deeper analysis.

To support this goal, some leading schools are increasing the amount of class time spent on problem solving. Rather than using class time to lecture on a new concept, then giving practice problems as homework, teachers work with students in the classroom to apply what they have learned to new situations.

3. Improve student motivation by illustrating real-world applications of math concepts. PISA data shows that students who believe that math is important to their future success are more likely to do well on mathematics assessments. To illustrate how math is used outside of the classroom, leading schools present students with real-world problems, such as calculating the cost of the materials needed for a building project, analyzing different options available to consumers, or extrapolating trends into the future.

4. Encourage multiple approaches, and allow for mistakes. In successful schools, teachers emphasize that there are multiple ways to solve a problem, and encourage students to think through which way is best.

Teachers also encourage students to engage in productive struggle. When students make a mistake, before correcting them, teachers encourage the students to analyze their mistake and try a different line of thinking.