In a recent podcast our friends Allan Dougan, from the Australian Association of Maths Teachers and Dr John West who is the WA Project Officer for the University of Adelaide Math in Schools Project, and is a fly-in/fly-out numeracy consultant for Coober Pedy Area Schools in South Australia, joined us for a Texthelp Talks Podcast. The topic of discussion was “What makes a good maths lesson?”. If you missed the podcast, you can catch it on demand - the link will be at the end of this blog.
Following on from the podcast, we thought it would be helpful to explore this topic a little more. We wanted to pull together some practical suggestions for your classroom. During the podcast, Dr. John West quoted Professor Dylan William who said, "Teaching is a career that it's impossible to master in just one lifetime”. So we know that the ideal maths lesson doesn’t exist, but there are some tips and tricks you can try at your school.
1. Find a flow
No maths lesson exists alone, each lesson will form part of a bigger topic, which forms part of a bigger topic, and so on. A good maths lesson will follow on from the last and lead into the next. That way students build layers of knowledge as they go.
At the start of the lesson, you can reference what you looked at last time. You can check what students remember about the last topic, and talk about why the topic is important. If you can show what else it links to, or even better how it applies to real-life - then it will mean more to your class.
2. Have a plan
It’s important to have a plan for each lesson, the time you get with the students might be short, so you need to hit the ground running. It’s helpful to ask yourself What do I want the students to get out of this lesson? What resources will I need? Is there a practical way of showing this lesson? Can the kids get hands-on with this topic?
Lesson structure is important too, is there something you can show the class at the start that sparks their interest? Things like interesting images, video clips, or something from the news can all be useful starting points.
3. Too many resources, too little time
There are so many materials available to you, they could be digital or concrete tools for students to manipulate. But you have to make sure they are the right tools for the job and that they add value to your lesson. With so much choice it pays to be critical about what you use and don’t just use them because they’re available.
4. Less is more
Following on from the point above, sometimes less is more. It’s better to break topics into smaller chunks and make sure the students understand it before moving on. This is especially important when tackling more complex topics. It’s easy to overestimate what you can squeeze into a lesson. Allowing students time to think and explore a topic fully can help with deeper understanding.
5. The main course
Once the class gets into a topic this is a great time for some teamwork. Can you let your class collaborate or investigate something together? This is an effective way to let students apply what they know, and make links across the curriculum. This is also time for differentiation, if the class is working on something together this gives you time to provide 1:2:1 support to anyone that needs it. To make sure everyone is getting something from the lesson, and that all needs are met.
At Texthelp, we take the Universal Design for Learning practices to heart. Creating access for everyone is what we do. We’d be missing a very important point if we didn’t remind you of these principles now:
A final point here is that UDL opens the door to opportunities for our learners. The teacher should have the same learning goals and expectations for each of their students. But remember that the way students get to the solution isn't always the same.
We have heaps of resources on our website that can help you with this. You’ll find lots of links in the resources section below this blog, but let's get on with our tips for your maths class….
6. Figure it out together
As a teacher, you are often expected to have all the answers, but there may be times when you don’t - and that’s ok too. We know that young people learn a lot from the adults around them, and if you are stumped by a question it’s ok to say you don’t know, but you’ll find out. Or even better, say you don’t know but that you’ll figure it out as a class. Modelling problem-solving behaviour is a great way to show your students that it’s ok to not have all the answers. As Allan says in the podcast “Fail fast, fail often, and fix it”.
Dr. Dylan Wiliam, mentioned in the podcast, talks in his book Embedded Formative Assessment about how the students can be learning resources for one another. If teachers allow students to support each other’s learning in a structured way it’s another way to engage with the content. This is where the “think, pair, share” idea comes into play. Pairs are a great way of doing this because it’s easy for them to switch and take turns. Is this something you could experiment with within your classroom?
7. Make it fun
Many people are not big fans of maths, anxiety around the topic can start at an early age and create feelings of frustration, and even inadequacy. There are some people who love figuring out how to solve a problem, these students perform well in maths and other related subjects compared to those who find it difficult.
Using fun games that kids can play with can really help break down a topic. Games are a fun and engaging way to reinforce the lessons, often students are having so much fun that they don’t even know they're learning. You can split students into teams and have spot prizes for the winners to add a little competition and get your students working as a team.
8. Closing time
We believe it’s important not to skip this step as it’s possibly the more important time in your lesson. It offers time to reflect as a class and allows students to think more deeply about what they have learned. It’s also a good time to pose questions and link topics together. For you, as a teacher, you can make sure everyone understands the topic, it gives you a quick snapshot of learning evidence. We recommend taking a little time for this at the end of every lesson. By planning out in advance and having all the tools to hand you can build reflection into your day.
Maths classes vary hugely from class to class, so there are many variables to how teachers design great maths lessons. The key point is to provide the chance for all your students to achieve success, whatever that looks like to them, to be engaged. And most importantly, to enjoy maths.