MAT Blog

Being able to correctly solve a math problem, work an algorithm, or construct a geometric shape isn't enough in today's mathematical world. Students need to have a full and comprehensive knowledge of the math vocabulary associated with the concepts they are being taught. This will help to reinforce current learning, connect with other related concepts, and build a strong mathematical foundation. There are many things a teacher can do to boost students' math vocabulary, but here are our top five:

1. Speak the language!
Although math terminology may seem confusing to students, using the correct mathematical terms is crucial for students to fully understand math concepts. To avoid confusion, teachers should be careful to always use proper terms, and not substitute alternate vocabulary.  Some vocabulary may seem daunting, especially for younger students, but using the proper terms consistently will help boost understanding and comprehension among related math concepts. This is so simple, but so very important. Also note that the terms you use with your students are likely to be different than the ones your students’ parents learned back in the day! Let parents and guardians know which terms and definitions your students are learning so that they can effectively help with homework.

2. Look it up!
There are many different online math dictionaries students can use to support their understanding of math vocabulary. These dictionaries provide an interactive way for students to explore new concepts, check definitions of unknown vocabulary terms, and further their understanding of math concepts.  Some good sites to check out are Cool Math, A Maths Dictionary, and Math Words.

3. Write it down!
Not only can students explore online dictionaries to boost their math vocabulary, but they can also record vocabulary to create their own dictionary. Dedicating a portion of a math journal to mathematical vocabulary is a great way for students to record their understanding, explain their thinking, and make connections between concepts. Students can use their math journals to write the word and definition, draw a visual representation, and create webs that link other mathematical concepts and vocabulary words. This also helps them get into the valuable habit of note-taking.

4. Go to the wall!
Although many classrooms may already have math word walls displayed, the key is finding interactive ways to use math word walls effectively. Simply displaying the words isn't enough. Students need to interact with the word wall. Teachers should refer to the word wall often and use it in mathematical think alouds to model and boost understanding. Word wall words can also be moved to a pocket chart and displayed at your students' level so they can remove a card, use it in their work, and return it to the pocket without needing assistance. Most importantly, teachers can find ways, such as using sticky notes, to make the word wall evolve as students learn. As math vocabulary is revisited, students can write or draw further explanations on sticky notes and then post them directly on the word wall.

5. Take time to play!
Math games
are always a great alternative for students to practice their math vocabulary. They provide a fun and unique avenue for students to enhance their understanding. The Word Wall Game requires a student to choose a word from the math word wall and give clues to the chosen word. Other students listen to the clues and then try to guess the word. Math Bingo is another good way to use a familiar game to reinforce vocabulary understanding. As students learn more vocabulary words, the teacher can reformat the vocabulary cards for an additional challenge. Teachers can also put the technology in their classroom to good use. For example, a projection unit and Microsoft PowerPoint Games can be combined to project games from the computer to a screen for the entire class to play. And there are dozens of online math games to discover.

By simply incorporating these five tips into your daily math instruction, you will help build a child’s math vocabulary— and a lifelong enjoyment of math.

Everyday Mathematics (EM) is a popular Pre-K through 6th grade mathematics curriculum developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project. The program is reportedly used in over 185,000 classrooms in all 50 states, by almost three million students. In its third edition, the text is printed in English and Spanish.

They describe their own program on their website as “… distinguished by its focus on real-life problem solving, balance between whole-class and self-directed learning, emphasis on communication, facilitation of school-family cooperation, and appropriate use of technology.”

Despite its many strengths, the lack of rote drill is what many teachers still say is perhaps the weakest aspect of the program. So we say, go ahead and incorporate your own rote drill practice, if you choose. Rote drill can be an effective instruction enhancement for many learners. After all, you know your students better than anyone.

EM defines its computation procedure: “Instead of requiring all students to learn the same computation procedure, by rote, at the same time, [EM] aims to make students active participants in the development of algorithms…they are encouraged to invent and share their own ways for doing operations.”

Research from the University of Chicago points to the benefits of students inventing and sharing their own operational procedures:

• Children are more motivated to solve problems when they have to come up with their own strategy instead of just following a rote procedure.
• Children with different learning styles are given problem solving options. They may choose to use manipulatives, drawings, oral and written words or symbols to represent and solve problems.
• When children explain and discuss their own algorithms with other children, they internalize what the operations mean and learn from each other.

The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project Everyday Mathematics website gives some good, solid advice to teachers, from teachers, for achieving success with Everyday Math.

Here are our top five:

1). Get together with your grade level teachers and plan your math year together. You’ll appreciate the moral support, and will find it easier to keep up with pacing.

2). Don’t try to teach every lesson to mastery. All students will not master the same content at the same time. One of the great features of Everyday Math is the “spiral” design that informally introduces topics for two years before actual, formal study. Students have opportunities over time—sometimes over several grade levels— to access concepts and skills.

3). Use a Math Word Wall to enhance daily vocabulary. Everyday Mathematics is language rich.

4). For older children, set up a Math Message Board so that students can find out what they need to do as they enter the room each morning. The message board will keep you on schedule, too, since it forces you to make a plan.

5). Allow your students to experiment—set aside one hour of math game time per week, to practice, practice, practice! Mornings are ideal, as it primes students for math learning later on. Try not to control game time—let students work problems out with each other.

For more excellent resources and ideas on how to facilitate Everyday Mathematics, go to the For Educators page, and check out the right-hand bar.

Share your math literacy best practices with us on our Linky Party on mathematics literacy, today! What has worked for you?