Teaching math at the elementary and junior high school levels presents a unique set of challenges to even the most experienced teachers. Gone are the days of simply learning how to calculate quickly and accurately or find the answer with measurements and a formula. Students are more and more often being asked to determine and record the answers as well as explain in detail how they arrived at each one. Although students have long been asked for explanations and examples in reading, social sciences and science classes, those questions have not been included in math classes until very recently.
Learning to Teach Math
Simply learning the basics of math and knowing how to use those skills to solve more complex problems is not adequate preparation for teaching math at the elementary or junior high levels. Teachers must know how to help students understand both how and why.
In 2015, Kelly Locastro graduated with a Master of Education in Elementary Education degree from Mississippi College. She stated, “One of my favorite courses was Teaching Elementary & Middle School Mathematics with Dr. Sydney Holbert.” Locastro added, “It was really hands on. She basically taught us to teach math. We did a lot of problem-solving and discovery learning. I use a lot of her stuff in my [second-grade] classroom now.”
Teaching Elementary & Middle School Mathematics is one of the Advanced Content Methods classes in the program. In this class, “special emphasis [is] given to methods of teaching the content as well as enrichment materials.”
Critical thinking has become somewhat of a watchword in all content areas, even at the elementary level. Experienced educators who teach students to answer the why questions know the value of taking valuable time to teach these skills.
The Critical Thinking Consortium explains the importance of teaching students to think critically in math.
Time invested in developing critical thinking pays off when students “learn to think and think to learn.” Students who are critically thoughtful in mathematics develop the following qualities:
- Deeper engagement and understanding. Research and common sense tell us that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot think or understand for our students. We can, however, create conditions that encourage students to “turn on” their brains and actively engage in learning mathematics through critical inquiry.
- Greater independence and self-regulation. By helping students develop a repertoire of thinking tools they are able to use independently, we can support their growing confidence in thinking for themselves and monitoring their own learning.
- Stronger competence with mathematical processes. Current standards in math education call for a focus on problem solving, reasoning, representing and communicating. Each of these processes (or “mathematical practices”) is strengthened when students think critically about mathematics.
Experienced teachers — well-prepared and highly qualified to teach math at the elementary and junior high levels — understand that the teaching skills required to reinforce critical thinking are much more complex than simple skill lessons of multiplication tables, geometric properties, postulates and theorems. Teachers must be prepared to model clear explanations of how problems are solved and offer support and strategies to students who have the technical math skills to find answers but cannot explain their work.
Kelly Locastro highly recommends the Master of Education in Elementary Education degree program at Mississippi College. “Just stay on top of things,” she said. “It’s not as hard as it seems. I would say make the attempt to learn in there. Once you’re out in the field, it’s so much more than just a degree.”
Learn more about the Mississippi College online M.Ed. in Elementary Education program.
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