Teach Math Like Its Never Been Taught Before


When you begin teaching your 5th or 6th Grade Math class, you often start with a high dose of ego.

You tell yourself that you can easily set any struggling student right by carefully and clearly explaining the skills and processes involved.

And then reality sinks in. It’s clearly not as easy as that.

There is a reason why your struggling students have continued to struggle throughout their first 5 or so years of schooling. It’s not the strength of the teachers they’ve encountered, because chances are, there have been some extremely adept teachers who have used tried and true methods for helping those student bridge the ever widening gaps.

Many teachers have expressed a reluctance of teaching 5th sand 6th Grade Math due to the introduction of concepts and skills which many Primary teachers find difficult. In truth, the major test of a 5th or 6th Grade teacher is not the skills itself, but rather the challenge of helping students learn skills they haven’t been able to grasp from their talented and competent previous teachers.

In order to cut through, teachers are therefore required to change things up. To employ slightly different ways of teaching the same skill. The following are some adjustments that work for me.

  1. Integrate the Skill in a Game – Kids love winning and try to avoid losing at all cost. Game play provides an incentive for children to learn skills that they may have ordinarily have claimed was too difficult. Dice games are the best because it provides a randomness that allows weaker students to often prevail over stronger students. I am constantly blown away by how effective game play is to break through to kids who usually struggle with Math.
  2. Change the wording – The wording of Math is so scientific and technical. Does it have to be? Absolutely not. So change it up. Instead of numerator and denominator, I use top bunk and bottom bunk. It helps. It doesn’t mean I will never teach them the right terminology, it just means I am more focused on the skill that the wording which can often intimidate.
  3. Reinforce the Objectives of Math – There is a reason why Math was invented and kids need to know that to be able to relate to it. I tell my students Math was invented for 2 main purposes. Firstly, to save us time. So instead of having to add 7 +7 a total of 8 times, I can just apply the sum 7×8, which is much quicker and easier. And secondly, for fairness. When I am dividing a birthday cake, everyone wants an equal sized piece. It turns out that children deeply value fairness and relate to the idea of resorting to shortcuts. Why not then explain how the skill of the day fits into one or both of the above categories?
  4. Bite Sized Pieces – I can’t tell you how many students I have confronted in the upper years who weren’t able to read time from an analogue clock. The big mistake, as I eluded to earlier, is to think that a careful and patient demonstration of what the big and little hands tell us will work. Again, you can bet that plenty of highly competent teachers have tried without success. My strategy is to break up the skill into small, bite-sized pieces. I tell them to ignore the hour hand. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Just focus on the minute hand. The next step is to show them the function of the minute hand and not move on until they get it. Only then do I introduce the hour hand. The problem that I have found is that reading an analogue clock involves a level of multitasking which kids (boys especially) find very intimidating. Take it slowly. One skill at a time. They respond better to that.
  5. Use What They Know – Students tend to do much better with currency than decimals. This is quite ironic, as decimals and currency are essentially the same thing. I tell all my students who struggle with decimals to pretend that 0.75 for example, is 75 cents. It helps! Math professors would be irate if they found out I was doing this. They would remind me that students will become unstuck when they encounter a decimal like 0.751, which doesn’t work with the currency technique. So what! Once I have taught them through currency their confidence levels are so high, I have found they are quite receptive to learning the differences that exist between decimals and money.

By the time your students have reached 5th Grade, they already have a sense for whether they like a subject and whether they are proficient at it. It’s so hard to turn the unconfident and unenthusiastic learners around.

But don’t give up. Just do it differently.


Click on the link to read A Maths Quiz That Manages to be Racist and Sexist

Click on the link to read Introducing the 5-Year-Old Math Genius (Video)

Click on the link to read Parents Struggle with Modern Day Math Questions

Click on the link to read Teachers Deserve Blame for Maths Disaster


Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: