Making Math Meaningful

Good morning, all!

I am giving a presentation on Making Math Meaningful at the upcoming Mountain Plains Adult Education Association Conference in Vegas and I could use a little feedback so that my presentation includes others' opinions and ideas.  I'll give you credit for your thoughts if I use them during my presentation.   

My proposal was "Are you teaching math to adult learners? Are you looking for strategies to use with the struggling learners? We will provide ideas that you can use immediately in your classroom that will help you feel confident that you are reaching learners who are having a difficult time making connections. Join this interactive discussion where we will share our ideas for making math meaningful for your students."  The agenda of my presentation goes like this:  Welcome, Creating a Positive Learning Environment, Using Graphic Organizers, Using Videos, Using Blended Learning, Conclusion.  I am using i-Pathways as my foundation for the graphic organizers; we have Flow Charts, Venn Diagrams, 4-Squares, and Concept Maps that I'll be demonstrating with math concepts during the presentation.  I will also be using i-Pathways as my example when discussing blended learning.  However, my presentation is meant to be inclusive for any program you are using.  

My questions are: 

1. What things do you do to create positive learning environments when teaching math? 

2.  Are there any videos that you use when teaching math? 

Thank you in advance for sharing your ideas with me.  I appreciate it. Let me know if you'll be at the MPAEA conference; I'd love to make a face to face connection!



... but I spend a lot of time making math meaningful :)  

I use *tons* of big bold visuals from Sarah Carter and   -- and has some other good explanations *and* some good practice w/ times tables and addition and subtraction facts.   

I've started making my own videos (Screencastomatic is free; Camtasia is awesome) ... I"m putting them up here   


You have been a busy lady making all of these videos!  I can't wait to dive into these deeper.  Thank you so much for sharing!  

I wearied of finding somebody to organize a project and figured I would do what I could do, so there are lots of half projects up there.   This weekend I'm hoping to get something sort of "deliverable" for the idea of a mini-course in "times tables and other things you might have missed," with lots of "this is what the people you think are smarter than you learned how to do... want to learn it?"   

(If anybody wants to organize a team to do it, I'll jump on!  I can't organize my way out of a wet paper bag...) 

This is such a big idea!  My latest group is still fairly new, so I will just mention a few things I did today as we incorporated a new student and the group is still new.  We are still establishing our relationships with each other and our relationships with math.

Changing relationships with math:  Since we're just getting past registration and testing because of school holidays and snow days, I have purposely done only activities where no one could know the "correct" answer.  I've asked students their observations about graphs with most of the information removed and slowly given them additional pieces of the graph.  I explicitly say things like, "I chose to reveal this information to you slowly so you can concentrate on each piece of the graph, but also because I want you to know that math is not just about getting the right answer."  I have a lot of English Language Learners of varying levels.  I accept oral observations, but I also ask them to jot an answer down and I peek.  Sometimes answers are given by, for example, ranking a list of categories written on separate pieces of paper by moving them in order.  This way there are many options for participating.

Developing relationships with each other:  I use their names frequently when I speak and ask them to introduce themselves every time we get a new student.  I arrange moments when they will have to talk to one (two if we have an odd number) other student, about something that can have multiple correct answers or multiple ways to reach the answer.  Today when I left, two students were in the parking lot still talking!  They just met the last week of January.

Connect to goals, math practices and big ideas:  When I get a new group, I constantly say things like, "I chose this because my goal for you is..."  I state my hopes for them and restate their own goals which they shared and connect it to what we are spending our time on.  I point out things they say and do that are part of the math practices, "That's on the list of things that mathematically proficient students do.  You just ...".  I specifically compliment things I want to continue.  I say things like, "That's a big idea Nyima just shared.  Who is willing to say what he just shared in their own words?  (and ask him to repeat if no one was willing until someone is willing)"  I told them where the series of lessons is leading (the performance task).

Individual relationships and homework plans:  Everyone gets resources for their own study outside of class and I text them a welcome.  This week many of them texted me questions or just letting me know they were traveling or sick, one emailed me an essay to give feedback to, one called to help him figure out the math for a real life problem.  I check in with everyone individually at some time before, during, or after class to see how their individual study plan is going.  It's a lot of time at the beginning of a semester that is not "on the clock" but I always find it's worth it to develop a relationship with everyone and set them up to know what they can do to reach their goals.

Well aren't they lucky to have a teacher like you, Connie?!?

When I talk about making connections in my presentation, I am going to address making connections to math as well as the humans in the room.  What you and Susan are doing is helping students unpack the math and learn WHY things happen and, in my opinion, that makes it stick with the students longer.  I am also a huge believer that helping students make connections with each other helps your math lessons flow more smoothly.  When they're comfortable with their peers (and the teacher), they are more likely to share their thinking.  I love how you give them things that have multiple ways to get to the answer and have them share their methods.  

Thank you for sharing!

I love the "what do you think this graph might represent?"   ... especially when it ends up being oh, something relevant to student lives. I saw a twitter example where the graph was about incarceration ... another where it was something w/ agriculture in that area...   When they've been thinking about what things mean, then the engagement is 


One of the things I do to create a more positive learning experience is I have students share their math journey with me.  I ask them to write about their earliest memory of mathematics and how they felt to where they are currently on this journey.  Their writings are for my eyes only and I often respond with follow-up questions either on paper or one-on-one in my office.  I know that classroom time is so essential in an adult education classroom but I have found that getting to know the people I teach and letting them know that I am on this journey with them helps with self-efficacy and retention.

I do spend time talking about the research that shows how adults learn mathematics.  I tell them what we know about slow thinkers and mistakes (this is all from Jo Boaler's work out of Stanford).  I do sometimes incorporate the videos that Jo has on the Stanford website.  Additionally, when it comes to teaching mathematics I use a lot of Dan Meyer's videos to look at math problems and to just notice and wonder.

Your presentation sounds like it is going to be an interesting one, will you be attending COABE?


If I were a betting girl, I'd bet that most of your students' stories go like this... "I used to be really good at math until I hit grade X.  My teacher was terrible and I haven't understood math since." OR "I don't have a math brain.  My parents weren't good at math, so I'm not either."  Am I right?!? 

I completely agree that Jo Boaler has created great work for us to share with them and it is a great start for helping them change their mindset.  In my opinion, building relationships is one of the best ways to help them see their own potential.  I also think that when they feel important and valued in your classroom, they'll keep coming back.    

I wish I was going to be able to make it to COABE this year, but unfortunately I'm not.  Maybe next year!  Thanks for good feedback; I do appreciate it.