5 Things You Must Know About Teaching Math
1) Fluency is Everything
If reading is really about words, math is really about the facts. Your students must be able to do all the operations with automaticity, that means knowing the answer in three seconds or less. One second would be better. By the time they get to you, however, many have tried to teach them the facts and failed. You need to do it better and do it differently: teach with blocks, teach with arrays, teach with songs and especially teach with games. Don’t let anyone convince you that giving a test every week is teaching the facts.
2) Make It Visual First
Everything in fifth-grade math can and should be made visual. You can use fraction pieces, base-ten blocks, arrays and number lines. Challenge yourself, at the beginning of each lesson, to think about what it looks like. If you can’t visualize it, you don’t understand it well enough to teach it. Sometimes, the visualization will seem too complicated to be worth the effort. Show it to the kids anyway, they will appreciate the routine.
3) Bite-Size Pieces
Learning to divide mixed numbers is a horrendous task. Learning to change mixed numbers to improper fractions, learning to find reciprocals, learning to multiply fractions and then reduce, ---these tasks are not so horrendous. Teach your children one bite-size piece of math a day. They, and you, need to feel the focus and the achievement of learning one step at a time.
4) Let It Marinade
The first time you teach your children to add and subtract unlike fractions, only about half your class will get it. This will make you angry and frustrated because you explained it a dozen times in a dozen different ways, just like a great teacher should. Relax, move on to geometry or algebra or decimals. Then, a week later, when you just taught them to solve for x in a simple addition equation and you see that everyone got it, review fractions for fifteen minutes. Do that with every easy lesson for a month and soon enough they’ll understand. Every kid can learn fifth grade math, but some need to let it marinade in their mind for a little bit.
5) Know What They Know
What makes the above #4 possible is your knowing what they know and don’t know. Don’t guess that they need to review dividing with decimals, know it. On a daily, weekly, and monthly basis you need to know what each child is missing. Use white boards, frequent assessments, and a lot of spreadsheets. (Or use Accelerated Math) This level of objectivity and specificity will save you time and stress as you worry about covering the multitude of standards and as you decide what to review or reteach.