Adding Rigor to the Math Classroom

Yes, I know. The R word. Ugh. I’m only starting to hate it because it sounds like a buzz word that you hear over and over, yet it’s like some kind of mystery to classroom teachers.

When I began teaching I thought that raising the rigor in my math classroom meant using bigger numbers, more problems, or homework projects.

And the kids hated it. They didn’t feel energized or motivated in math. They felt bogged down and I pretty much sucked all the joy out of their little faces.

Nice going Ms. Smith.

Instead now I know that rigor has a different definition. It might mean solving open ended problems, finding multiple solutions, connecting math to real life situations, using visual models, and thinking deeper instead of faster. And I’ve realized that sometimes rigor can be injected in very simple ways. Take this example (used in a second grade classroom early in the year):


This is really quite a simple idea, and almost any number (or number sentence!) could be put in there to adapt it to any grade level.  Notice how open ended it is? The teacher is not telling them to use: tallies, ten frames or cubes. We started with 10 to show the routine and the process, allowing them to find more and more ways and share their thinking.  Students are given a number and need to think of how many ways to build it and show representations of it. The beauty is they begin to see the need for shortcuts in math more naturally. It doesn’t make sense to show the number 110 with 110 individual cubes, we can group them into packs (rods/sticks..whatever you call them) of 10 or 100!

The more students can use tools and visuals, the stronger their mathematical thinking will become!


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