It is too early to know how far student’s math skills have slid during this pandemic? Some studies estimate as much as a year of math, more than any other subject, will be lost by a large percentage of our students.
Why might pandemic learning loss be worse in math than other subjects?
- Unlike reading, math is process-oriented and almost always taught through formal instruction. Parents are often less equipped to help their children in math.
- Stress with pandemic may worsen existing math anxiety in students. The more stress a student is experiencing, the greater the inability to retain information. 67% of teachers reported students’ math anxiety as a challenge this year.
- Inability to access manipulative-based math exploration of math concepts.
- Children that live in households where math is presented negatively can suffer the greatest learning losses.
How can teachers and parents work together to help swing students out of the COVID math slide?
- Accept that all children can learn math. Studies show that brains continue to grow and build like any other muscle in the body. In fact, making errors tends to grow the brain. Much like maxing out on weights, the brain grows when we push it.
- Learn to champion math. Math is the only subject that our culture, at large, views negatively. How many times have you heard people declare they are not a math person? Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m not a reading person?” Or “When will I ever use reading?” I know this is a steep ask because math negativity is deeply ingrained in our culture, but fake it until you make it for the sake of the students.
- Accept that math is not a spectator sport. Students need to get in there and play with numbers and math concepts. Math needs to be more cooperative and hands-on. Like a sport, students need to be able to work together and play with math. This builds math vocabulary and math ideas. The more students communicate and collaborate about math the more understanding will come.
- Go from rote learning to active learning. Get into problem solving. Provide fun cooperative problems for students to solve together. This should start as early as possible, Preschool, Kindergarten, 1st grade. Too much emphasis is placed on fact mastery and not problem solving.
Example lesson for kindergarteners or first graders
Educator creates a block structure like the one in the image below.
- Students are placed into groups of 2 or 3.
- Students are asked to look at the structure from a distance and then collect the number of blocks they need to recreate the structure.
- Students work together to recreate the image.
- Students are counting, understanding spatial reasoning, adding, and possibly subtracting blocks. Even numbers can be addressed with the two columns that are the same height. Columns and rows can be introduced.
- Students can write this structure as a math problem 4 + 4 + 5, or 4 two times + 5.
This simple math lesson has taught far more than any worksheet.
Swing into being a math champion! Or at least keep pumping until you feel the math anxieties lift.
For breakfast, I had a bowlful of Cheerios and let my dog lick up the leftover milk.