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9 Effective Maths Strategies that Work like Magic

Ready to level up your teaching? These 9 proven maths strategies are guaranteed to boost fluency, confidence and results. Give them a try today!

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Math Minds

Wednesday, 22nd June 2022

From using visual aids to questioning techniques, these maths strategies are easy to implement and will make a big impact on the way your students learn.

If you're an educator or parent, looking for proven ways to help your children excel - this is it! Get started with even just a few and see the difference for yourself.

1. Inspire curiosity

One of the best ways to learn anything is to be curious about it. When you're curious, you're more likely to be engaged and to pay attention. So if you want your kids to be good at maths, one of the best things you can do is to encourage them to be curious about nature, the universe and how things work.

children working together on a collaborative project

There are lots of ways to do this. You could:

  • Set up maths challenges that encourage them to ask "why?"

  • Get them to come up with their own questions to explore

  • Take them on field trips to places like museums or science centres where they can see maths in action

  • Help them to find real-life examples of the concepts they're learning about

  • Pose a problem that has multiple solutions

Provide engaging homework

Homework doesn't have to be boring. There are lots of ways to get students excited about their tasks. For instance, you could:

  • Set up a homework club where students can work together on their assignments

  • Get them to use technology to create presentations or videos about what they've learned

  • Encourage them to keep a maths journal where they can record their thoughts and discoveries

2. Build conceptual understanding

Two of the biggest mistakes teachers make are getting students to memorise procedures without understanding them, and focusing on the right answer, rather than the journey.

Both of these things can lead to frustration and a feeling of inadequacy in students. So instead, help them to understand why the underlying mathematical concept works - not just regurgitate steps.

When teaching mathematics, don't make speed your priority. One of the things that can cause anxiety for students is the pressure to do maths quickly. But in reality, speed is not the goal. What's more important is that students find the 'why?' behind the 'what' and 'how', on their terms and at their own pace. This is when real learning happens.

Draw connections between big ideas

Maths is all about connections. So in order to help your students understand one idea, it's often helpful to connect it to others.

If they're having trouble understanding fractions, link it to division, decimals or percentages.

If they're struggling with geometry, connect it to measurement or art. By making these connections, you'll help students to see the big picture and deepen their understanding of the subject matter.

Mental maths strategies to nurture number sense

Students need a strong sense of numbers. Unfortunately, this is something that's often neglected in many primary schools. So make sure you're doing everything you can to nurture your students' number sense.

Here are some mental maths strategies that will help:

  • Number bonds: Help students to see the relationship between numbers by teaching them number bonds. The number bond for 7 is 1 + 6, 2 + 5, 3 + 4.

  • Compensation: These math strategies involve making a small change to an equation to make it easier to solve in your head. If you're trying to add 7 + 5, you could make it 7 + 3 and then add 2 more.

  • Subtraction strategies that involve visualising a number line or even counting up. 38 - 29 Could be answered by thinking about 29 + ? = 38.

  • Split strategy: This is a great strategy for larger numbers. For instance, if you're trying to work out 35 + 64, you can break up the numbers according to their place value, and then rearrange: 60 + 30 + 5 + 4.

3. Personalise the pace and content

Not all students learn at the same pace or in the same way. So it's important to personalise the content and pace of learning to suit each individual student.

Primary school teacher working one on one with a student

There are a few different ways you can do this:

  • Differentiation: This is when you adjust the content, complexity or difficulty of tasks to match the needs of individual students.

  • Inquiry-based learning: This is a student-centred approach to teaching where students are encouraged to explore concepts for themselves.

  • Flexible grouping: This involves grouping students together according to their ability, rather than their age or grade.

Be familiar with your student's strengths and weaknesses

Pay close attention to how your students are engaging with the material. This will give you a good indication of their strengths and weaknesses. From there, you can adjust your instruction accordingly.

Utilise different types of assessments

Whether it's a multiplication quiz, test, project or presentation, there are lots of different assessment types you can use to gauge your students' understanding. And it's important to use a variety of them so you can get a well-rounded picture of each student's progress.

Make sure you're providing meaningful feedback

Assessments are useless if you don't provide insightful feedback. So after each assessment, take the time to go over the results with your students and identify areas for improvement. This will help them to understand what they need to work on and give them the motivation to do so.

4. Set clear lesson objectives

Always begin your lessons by setting a clear objective. This will help to anchor your students' attention and keep them on track. For example, rather than saying "today we're going to learn about multiplication", try something like "today we're going to learn how to multiply two-digit numbers by a one-digit number".

Constantly review topics

Make it a habit to continually review prior class work with your students. This will help to solidify their understanding and prevent them from forgetting what they've learned.

One way you can do this is by starting each lesson with a quick recap of the previous lesson. You could also set aside some time at the end of each week to review all the concepts that have been covered.

Set goals with kids to help them a take charge of their own learning

One of the best ways to motivate students is to involve them in setting their own goals. This will help them to take ownership of their learning and feel more invested in the process. To succeed in achieving goals, they must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART).

For example, rather than setting a goal like "I want to get good at maths", try something like "I will be able to solve 3-step equations in under five minutes by the end of the week".

5. Highlight important vocabulary

New topics often come with new vocabulary. So it's important to take the time to explain any unfamiliar terms. You could do this as part of your lesson objective or during the lesson when the term comes up.

Teacher using whiteboard for writing definitions

It's also a good idea to write down any new vocabulary on the board or in a handout so students can refer back to it later.

At Math Minds, we empower our students to take charge of their own learning. In our maths tutoring sessions, children learn how to develop a glossary of key terms and definitions. This not only builds confidence but improves knowledge retention.

Use visuals aids and manipulatives to engage students

Humans are visual creatures, so it's no surprise that we learn better when information is presented in a visual way. Whenever possible, use visuals to explain new ideas and illustrate examples. This could be anything from pictures and diagrams to real-world objects and demonstrations.

Manipulatives are objects that students can touch, hold and manipulate to help them understand a concept. They can be anything from pattern blocks to working clocks!

6. Relevance is key

Make your lessons relevant to your students' lives. One way you can do this is by using real-world examples whenever possible. Some examples include:

  • Using coins to teach addition and subtraction

  • Measuring the length of a table when focusing on how to teach multiplication facts

  • Comparing prices at the supermarket to teach decimals or percentage discounts

You could also encourage your students to share any personal experiences they have that are related to the topic you're covering. This will help to make the material more relatable and interesting.

Vary your questioning

Whenever you're presenting new information, make sure to ask a variety of questions. This will help to create a sense of collaboration and ensure that everyone is understanding the material. The key to effective questioning is to avoid yes/no questions as much as possible. Instead, try to ask open-ended questions that require more thought.

Here are some that our coaches love:

  • What do you notice about this pattern?

  • How could we solve this problem in a different way?

  • Can you explain your thinking?

If you've never been consciously aware of your questioning technique, it could be helpful to write some down in the following categories:

  • Comprehension questions (Why do you think that happened?)

  • Application questions (How could you use this in a real-world situation?)

  • Evaluation questions (What didn't work with this approach?)

  • Synthesis questions (What would happen if…?)

7. Foster a growth mindset

Research has shown that students who have a growth mindset (the belief that intelligence can be developed) outperform those with a fixed mindset (the belief that intelligence is static).

Teacher encouraging a group to work through a problem on a laptop

We're not born with a growth mindset – it's something that needs to be developed and nurtured. If you want to learn how to get better at Maths, from both a teaching and learning standpoint - it all starts with your mindset!

One way you can promote a growth mindset in your classroom is by using positive language. For example, instead of saying "you're wrong", try "let's explore that further".

Praise effort rather than ability

"You worked really hard on that" or "I can see that you're thinking deeply about this problem" instead of "you're so clever". This will help students to feel more confident and motivated to keep learning.

Celebrate mistakes

You could also set up a class reward system that celebrates the process of learning, rather than just the final product. For example, you could have a "most improved" award or give out stickers for good effort.

At Math Minds, we embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn. We help our students understand that making a mistake is a normal and essential part of the learning process.

Be the change you want to see

Finally, make sure to model a growth mindset yourself! When you're faced with a challenge, share your thought process with your students and let them know that it's OK to struggle. Perseverance is the key to success!

8. Allow time for reflection

Reflection is an important part of the learning process and one of the most effective maths strategies. It allows students to think about what they've learned and to identify any areas that need improvement.

It can take many forms. Reflection could be as simple as asking your class to write down one thing they learned at the end of each lesson. Or, you could set aside 5 minutes at the end of each day for students to journal about their learning.

You could also use reflection to help students develop metacognitive skills (thinking about thinking!). A great way to do this is during group discussions. After a collaborative activity, ask your class to think about what maths problem solving strategies they found most helpful.

  • What worked well? What didn’t?

  • Did you learn a new approach?

  • What could we have done differently?

  • Did someone share a helpful strategy?

  • What was your favourite part of the lesson?

These will help to develop their problem-solving skills and encourage them to think critically about their learning.

Feynman technique

A practical way to encourage reflection is to use the Feynman technique. Named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, this technique is based on the idea that "if you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough".

As a maths teacher, this is one of the best math strategies in your toolkit. Always ask students to teach a lesson back to you. This does two things: Helps the child immediately identify any gaps in their understanding and also allows you to gauge how well they've grasped the concept. Win-win!

9. Make learning maths fun

Whether you're teaching mental strategies or complex geometry, it's important to make learning maths fun. If students are enjoying themselves, they're more likely to retain information.

school excursion to science museum

Remember Maths is not like other subjects, and we mustn't treat it as such. It's a universal language that allows us to understand and make sense of the world around us. It's a tool that we can use to solve problems, big and small. We must help children see how maths is used in everyday life and the many different careers that require it.

When students see the value in what they're learning, they're more likely to be enthusiastic about it. One way to do this is through researching and sharing inspiring stories about people who have used maths to achieve great things.

Use technology effectively

Online maths resources and learning tools are a great way to make learning more enjoyable in school and at home. They also provide an opportunity for your class to practice what they've learned in a low-stakes environment.

Some of our favourite online maths apps for kids include ones that balance fun with personalised, content-rich learning, like Prodigy and Khan Academy.

In our tutoring sessions, we also use a range of digital technologies to engage and motivate our students. Our team of expert tutors are skilled in using digital platforms to deliver effective maths lessons that track progress and ensure every child is challenged at their own level.

Final Thoughts

There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to teaching maths. Different pupils will respond to different approaches. However, these 9 maths strategies are a great place to start.

Try out a few of these maths strategies in your classroom and see how your kids respond. Experiment. Test and get feedback from the class. You'll soon find the perfect combination of strategies that not only work well for your students but that you enjoy teaching too!

Remember, there's no time like the present to start trying out new things. Keep evolving your pedagogy. Never stop learning. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!

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