Top 10 Tips for Teachers of Elementary Math

I saw this awesome pin today on pinterest, and haven’t been able to get this post out of my head, so I thought I’d author it and link back to the original author, Love, Laughter and Learning in prep (click below to see her page!):

Top 10 Math Tips for New Teachers

So here are my top 10 tips (basically the top 10 things I wish I had known as a first year teacher) for teachers of elementary math:

1.  Stop being scared of math! I spent a good two years being terrified of math because I was terrible at math my entire life.  If you can embrace the fear right now, you can also do tips #2-10.

2.  Make a lot of mistakes. In fact, make a TON of mistakes in front of your students.  They will love you for it, and it helps them see things they wouldn’t see if you always did math perfectly.

3.  Allow your students to make many mistakes.  Don’t grade everything they work on, give them time to practice.  If they make mistakes it should be without worry of a grade so that they can analyze them.

4.  Make your students analyze their OWN work.  If you correct their work, hand it back with a note that has all the right answers, they are done learning.  You are the only one that did any of the learning unless they can analyze what they did wrong.

5.  Get in their space. Walk around a lot and get down next to students, work with them and talk to them about their thinking. Keep them accountable with group shares and math talk.

6.  Let them share.  You aren’t the only one with great tricks and strategies, let the students share their thinking so that they can inspire their peers.

7.  Give immediate feedback on their performance.  Allow them to take home work occasionally, but encourage most of it in class where you can correct misconceptions right away.

8.  Practice doesn’t have to mean a worksheet. I use worksheets from time to time, but that isn’t the only way to practice skills. Pull out the manipulatives, dry erase boards or other tools.  Let them draw their thinking all over the easel paper and chalkboards. Let math be messy, and let it take on the beauty that it really is.

9. No matter what, ALWAYS connect math concepts to their world. Math does not have meaning unless they care about it, and can use it in a setting that is motivating to them.

10.  Use data to drive your instruction. Using exit slips for every lesson is a very powerful way to form groups, and to figure out who needs what immediately.

Good luck to all of those who are beginning a new semester or a new school year.  I wish you lots of math love!


3 Tips For New Teachers to Create an Optimal Math Environment

Yesterday, I was in my classroom preparing for the beginning of the year when a brand new teacher came in to talk to me.  He was explaining his feeling of pure panic for the first day tomorrow.  Eight years in, I still have that same panicky feeling, but there is SO much I’ve learned since that time.  His main concern was math.  He explained that we have so many things in place to set up routines for literacy workshops, but not for math.  So we talked through some great ideas for how to launch a math workshop.

Here are three tips for those energetic and amazing new teachers:

1.  Set up your expectations for your workshop.  You can do this the same way that you would during literacy.  The best way to do this is to tackle one or two items each day, and post anchor charts! Those anchor charts can be referred to whenever you encounter problems. Some things you might consider covering:

  • When it is okay to talk? When is it individual time vs. group time?
  • What does your math workshop sound like?
  • Where are the math materials located, how should they gather them and return them?
  • What does a typical math block look like?
  • Good mathematicians take risks and make many mistakes.

I always go over the math block (explaining the time we take to have a balanced math class) and make a chart for the wall.  Everyone knows what to expect each day:

photo (8)

2.  Spend some time working through the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  A few years ago when the common core came out, most people had no idea what the math practice standards were all about. I took some time to write out how I teach them last year, so that I can start the school year with a detailed plan.  Then, I post them up as anchor charts with student work. Those standards will be an underlying theme as you practice math all year.

3.  Get to know your students and trust their reactions. Find out their attitudes about math from the beginning.  If you feel things are not going well, you are probably going too fast. If something is too hard, you’ve covered too much too quickly or the difficulty is too high. Check back to the Common Core to see if it is really something that should be mastered. Check with your team, how fast are they pacing their content?

Good luck to all of the new teachers out there! You’ll be amazing! The veteran teachers around you will be inspired by your energy, enthusiasm and fresh ideas.  We learn just as much from you as you learn from us.