Teaching maths in challenging times: Keep calm and remain critical!

We are currently experiencing an unprecedented health event in the history of the world. While many of us are likely to remain safe from the potentially deadly effects of COVID-19, the strategies that have been put in place to limit the spread of the virus is causing panic in many areas of our everyday lives, and in education.

I felt compelled to write this blog after noticing the wonderful generosity of teachers on social media in sharing resources to assist teachers who are preparing for potential school closures or student absenteeism. While this generosity is to be applauded, I feel it’s important to remind ourselves that we need to be critical when using resources prepared by others. Each classroom is unique, and resources should be adapted to suit your unique group of learners and should be of high quality, reflecting best practice in mathematics education.

Using Resources Created by Others

Remember that we also need to be critical of the resources we use, regardless of the situation. This morning I followed a link to a series of teacher-made videos on YouTube and decided to watch one of the videos out of curiosity. It happened to be a recording of a maths lesson on multiplication, so I was excited to watch. Unfortunately, the content of the lesson was not as I had hoped. The strategy used demonstrated the application of a rule without any explanation of why the rule works. This type of teaching doesn’t promote conceptual understanding because we can’t assume students will understand why the rule is in place. If students from a range of contexts access videos such as this, misconceptions will arise and will be difficult to address in a distance-learning environment. This is just one example to support my advice to be critical of all resources.

Digital Resources

Many resource companies are currently (and very generously) offering free or increased access to online resources. Again, exercise caution to ensure that the level of the mathematics (or any other subject content) is appropriate – not too easy but not too challenging. Also ensure that the way the content is presented is going to be comprehensible to your students. Does the resource demonstrate best practice? Does it align with the curriculum that you are working within? Is the resource high quality?

Learning management systems such as Google Classroom, Canvas, OneNote, SeeSaw or Echo provide opportunities to ensure pedagogical relationships can continue beyond the classroom. They also allow for work samples to be uploaded and feedback to be provided. Such feedback can be provided in written form or can take the form of personalised videos or screencasts.

What if students don’t have access?

Teaching in an online environment can provide challenges in relation to equity. We absolutely cannot assume that all students have access to devices and the internet. With that in mind, what strategies can you use to ensure students have quality, non-digital learning experiences from home? Consider providing rich, extended tasks that students are able to work on (nrich or Maths300). Mathematical investigations and problem solving are a great place to start but be sure to provide some instructional advice for parents/caregivers. Consider open-ended tasks such as Thinkers Key activities or mathematical games and puzzles (using easy to access resources such as playing cards and dominoes).

From: Engaging Maths: Higher Order Thinking with Thinkers Keys

Couple these types of tasks with good reflection questions and you can capture student thinking and ensure learning has taken place. There are also many opportunities to develop enriching activities from media reports (the toilet paper situation is a good example – I’ve added some example investigations below).

Keep calm and carry on!

They key message in this blog post is to remain calm and remember what good teaching looks like, regardless of where, how and what device or resources we have at hand. Remember that we must always provide the best quality of education we can, using the resources we have at hand and our professional judgement. We’ll get through this challenging time and perhaps we and our students learn something new because of the challenges we now face.

An example of a media report that can be used to stimulate mathematical investigation

Toilet Paper Investigations:

  • What is meant by ‘the average’ family? Is your family ‘average’? Explore the different ways to work out ‘average’.
  • Do you think your family needs 20 rolls of toilet paper a fortnight? How much does your family use? How will you find out?
  • How much would 20 rolls of toilet paper cost? (You could use online shopping apps or paper catalogues to investigate)
  • What is the best buy for toilet paper at the moment? (If the shops have any left)
  • Would you use more toilet paper if you scrunch or if you fold?
  • Do more people scrunch or fold? How would you find out?
  • If each section of toilet paper is 11cm by 10cm, what is the total length of one roll? What about 20 rolls?
  • If you bought a 60 roll pack from Costco and imagine rolling out your 60 rolls, where do you think it would take you on a map? Would you still be in your school/house/street? How could you work this out without unrolling the rolls (and making yourself very unpopular)? What mathematics would you need to use?

2 thoughts

  1. I like this email from engaging maths about keeping calm and being critical with what we provide to parents.

    Lizbeth Iles | Primary Learning Leader | Support Teacher:Inclusive Education

    Our Lady Help of Christians, Hendra
    23 Bowman Street, Hendra 4011
    P. 32683070 F. 32164962
    [email signature2]


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