During the pandemic, you as an educator or math teacher took a leap towards online teaching, irrespective of your concerns.
And, we can’t praise you enough for doing it so brilliantly.
Without a doubt, online classes are different from the traditional classroom in so many aspects. While getting used to online teaching doesn’t happen overnight, we all have made our share of mistakes during online classes. Not remembering to unmute yourself remains the least of it.
When teaching math online, we need to view the lessons as something completely different from a physical classroom. It requires different methods and ideas and there are different approaches you can take which will depend so much on your school curriculum.
You use computer screens and webcams instead of chalkboards or whiteboards. You also multi-task in new ways by teaching the class while following the text chat and watching for students to raise their hand. You are constantly on an array to find new ways to teach and understand how your students are doing, rather than looking at their blank faces.
The first and foremost rule however remains that your student’s success depends on more than just their academic progress in learning.
For a student to benefit from online teaching as much as they would from face-to-face teaching, you must consider the impact and significance of three domains of learning:
- Cognitive domain – Analyzing and evaluating the new and known information to make an association (the commonly accepted ‘thinking’ of learning)
- Metacognitive domain – Thinking about your own thought processes
- Affective domain – Relates to your emotions, motivations and behaviour towards learning
The above-mentioned domains of learning must be built together to maximize students’ performance in maths.
Maths as a subject also has a widespread but polarising reputation. It’s not uncommon to hear “I love math class” from students who enjoy the subject or “math is too hard” from students who are struggling.
But what can be done to ensure more students see how fun and fulfilling maths can be during both online and in-class lessons?
Here, we’ve put together tips and tricks to help you make your online maths classroom more approachable – and even fun – for students at all grade levels during hybrid or online classes –
Be Strategic and Creative With Assessments (Rethink Your Assessment Strategy)
Teaching math online provides another wrinkle to the learning process that isn’t normally encountered in the classroom – how to assess a student’s progress. Proctoring a test to evaluate students’ math skills can be impractical in an online classroom, which is an opportunity to think creatively and strategically on how to foster and apply math skills in new and creative ways.
Both formative (feedback on understanding) and summative (evaluating outcomes) assessment reveal students’ understanding, reasoning, and ability to apply key concepts in mathematical contexts.
Good assessment strategies support the learning objectives, engage your students and provide you with insight into your students’ progress in different math concepts. In the process of designing effective math assessments for your online class, the focus must be on student learning and not student control. For Example:
- Incorporate more formative assessment to support student learning.
- Consider alternatives such as comprehensive projects that synthesize concepts, small frequent quizzes, group assignments, or opportunities to critique the reasoning represented in math homework.
- Talk openly with your students about what they need to know in order to be ready for the next lesson, to help them focus on what is important for them to learn for the math class.
Other strategies that you can use in order to be open to alternate assessment strategies are:
- Ask students to model and display math information and findings in different ways such as in words, pictures, diagrams, numbers, charts, graphs, tables, etc.
- Be open to allowing students to decide how to record their understandings and findings
- Encourage students to seek information using appropriate terminology both verbally and visually through questioning, math charts, math word wall, math vocabulary books, sentence starters, etc.
- Display possible sentence starters for math assessment for those who need them. Examples include:
Today in Math:
- I learned ___
- I found out ___
- I discovered ___
- The easiest/most difficult part of the lesson was ___
- One thing I learned that I did not know before was ___
- The most important thing I learned in maths this week was ___
- I would explain to an absent student what I did/learned in Math today like this ___
- The answer is ___ because ___
- The steps taken in solving this problem were ___
- The strategy used to find a solution to the problem was ___
- I still don’t understand ___
- Another strategy that can be used to solve this problem would be to ___
- The maths goal for tomorrow is ___
- Set questions/tasks that offer students the opportunity to explore a variety of solutions and discover generalizations or patterns at their own level of thinking, rather than limited questions which allow for one answer only. For example:
Closed Question: What is 8 x 20?
Open Question: A school has 160 students. They all come to school by bus and each bus carries the same number of students. How many students might there be on each bus?
Build Collaborative Structures and Cooperation Among Students
Collaborative learning and cooperation among students are just one of the countless effective ways to foster additional learning experiences. It opens more opportunities for personalized learning, for social interactions and builds relationships between students and between the teacher and students.
Beyond this, it will also help students to build communication, take ownership of their own learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills at the same time.
The inclusion of collaborative activities during online maths class leads to positive performance outcomes. It facilitates active learning, shared knowledge and promotes interaction. Whereas, cooperation among students can greatly mitigate the struggle and improve student success and interest in mathematics. It can also be proven useful to bring your students to view maths topics as more than just numbers and equations.
For Instance, try to foster discussions where students communicate with one another, share ideas and debate concepts. While interacting with you is important for your students in the online math class, it is also important that students have space where they can discuss mathematical concepts with one another as well.
- Have frequent, small group assignments with clearly communicated due dates, and create math learning activities that require your students to interact at specified intervals. If you are requiring them to engage in collaboration or discussion to solve a math problem or work together on a math topic for the next lesson, communicate clearly about how often you expect them to be online.
- Assign sub-topics to small groups of students and get them to propose 2 or 3 equations. It’s surprising how well this demonstrates whether students really do understand what they’ve been doing in math class. It also lets them see math from a broader perspective.
- Then, get these small groups to share their questions around the room and solve them. Some of them may be impossible to solve – it can be transformational when they discuss what’s wrong with the question and then feedback conclusions to the equation posers.
- Encourage discussion, debate and clarification throughout the math lesson. Provide opportunities for students to share ideas with their partners, in small groups as well as in virtual class discussions. It will help students use and understand the language of math before they can use it effectively in writing.
- Inspire students to discuss or clarify information with others. Discussion happens when there is a struggle or debate, which doesn’t happen easily with yes-no questions. Ask students open-ended questions which will allow them to interact about how or why, and not what or whether.
- Allow your students to take different paths where they collaboratively complete math assessments, develop a group project, make their own word problems, create a poster or express their understanding of different math concepts in some other creative ways like video format.
Few strategies to build on student collaboration and cooperation in the online math classroom is:
- Break students into small groups to answer questions, work on projects and learn from one another
- Deliberately select the students who will work together
- Maintain a discussion board for students to ask questions
- Assign roles to each student in a group with specific goals and expectations
- Teach students to listen to one another
- Have separate class times for discussions with a different group of students.
- Make sure you use practical and real-world problems to enhance reasoning
- Delegate different tasks for a more personalized learning experience
- Evaluate each group on their own strength and weaknesses
Visualise and Verbalise Everything in Your Math Classroom
Unless you’re only using video calling software, you’re likely to need to share your screen with students while teaching online. This means both you and your students will be unable to pick up on the sorts of visual cues you’re used to. However, you will need to be able to work out when students are struggling and are unable to pick up on the subject. You can do it primarily by listening, visualizing and verbalizing your math classroom.
Most of all, to facilitate learning, firstly verbalize your math classroom. You can do so by spending a significant amount of time in your online lessons probing and prompting maths questions. It will also help you to better gauge your students’ level of understanding and their thought processes.
Encourage your students to use math talk by asking questions to help students develop an appropriate vocabulary for talking and writing in mathematics.
Question your students as they work on the set of tasks to help them make sense of the task, build self-confidence and encourage mathematical thinking and communication.
Possible questions might include:
- Where can you begin?
- Can you restate the problem in your own words?
- What information is required to solve this problem?
- Have you solved similar problems that would help?
- Can you make a prediction?
- How can you organize the information?
- Can you draw a model to explain your thinking?
- What would happen if ___?
- Describe a strategy you can use to solve this?
- What do you need to do next?
- Do you see any patterns in your work?
- How do you know your solution is reasonable?
- How did you arrive at your answer?
- Did you try anything that did not work?
- Can you explain this math concept more clearly?
Whereas, to visualize your online math classroom, help them create images that go with the numbers and mathematical principles or equations that they need to understand. Don’t forget to make use of videos and animations wherever necessary.
Through visualization, students can better connect math concepts and frame their understanding in an organized manner. Students should also be encouraged to picture the math problem like a story in their mind when complex and detailed math concepts are being taught or they may also enjoy using computer-based software for this task.
Provide regular, ongoing opportunities during math lessons for students to share their written representations. It will help them consider different ways to approach problems, as well as different ways of representing and explaining their thinking.
Possible questions might include:
- Which diagram would you use to represent this problem?
- How are ________’s and _________’s representations similar/different?
- How are _______’s and _______’s strategies similar/different?
- How could you revise your math word problem to make it clearer?
- Draw the equation/s that would match this problem?
An activity for example:
- Call out a math word – have students draw a diagram or doodle for 1-2 minutes until the next word is called. After you have called out a few words, ask students to connect each of the math word-based doodles. Next, ask them to label their doodles and link them to form a word-based math problem.
Pay Equal Attention to Student’s Attitude and Their Attainment Towards Math
Maths attainment is essential for a wide range of outcomes relating to further education as well as careers. Wherein, students’ attitude towards math can affect their overall achievement. Preventing long-lasting negative attitudes towards math in students is essential – as a positive attitude towards math can lead to higher academic achievement.
When you strive for and assess student success you must look at how it is being achieved both in their ‘attainment’ and their ‘attitude’. These two components are driven by the cognitive and metacognitive domain (attainment) and affective and metacognitive domain (attitude) based activities. And, are equally important to ensure students can learn to the best of their abilities, even if the methods you use to develop them may differ.
Nurturing the affective domain is just as important. Instilling positive attitudes towards maths not only results in better performance in the subject but also improves the overall cognitive abilities and helps create lifelong learners!
The virtual math classroom also provides an effective learning environment for you to incorporate metacognitive activities such as encouraging children to reflect on what they know and what they need to know.
Developing a positive attitude towards maths means relishing opportunities for self-improvement, acknowledging and embracing imperfections. As a teacher, you can foster it in your online math classroom in the following ways:
- Provide regular opportunities for students to reflect on their learning at least once a day.
- Ask students for feedback about your teaching and be willing to make necessary adjustments. This feedback shows that we, too, are learners.
- Have students communicate what math concepts they know and what are they still unclear about to identify areas for change and improvement in learning and practising.
- Emphasize practise and achievement rather than competition – and ensure that all students’ work is chosen at various times for class display.
- Lastly, reciprocate your students’ hard work to continue on the learning journey alongside.
Moreover, digital game-based learning is a promising option for improving students’ attitude and leading to greater achievement in maths. Since children have so much fun playing video games, incorporating them into learning can increase motivation and engagement.
To read more about game-based learning click here
Make the Pool of Maths Activities Meaningful
Quite often math lessons start with ‘This is the new formula for today, here’s how you plug in values and that’s the correct answer.’
Most of us make no attempt to inspire the learners through reasoning in order to spike their interest. When you’re teaching in the classroom it can be easy to keep students engaged with a topic; there are plenty of activities that will provide them with a visual stimulus to draw them in.
Undoubtedly, it’s a lot more difficult online. Your pool of activities is smaller, as are the ways in which students can interact with them (and with one another).
To combat this, add more context to your lessons. Embed the learning in real-world applications, related to what students might encounter at home. Find out where each math topic you teach will be used by the students (for example it may be in their science class). It will allow you to help your students make connections between the real world and math topics.
With a class of 30 while you can’t create a truly personalized lesson plan online, consider focusing on making maths more relevant and meaningful to them. It is good to pique curiosity with an image, a short video, a diagram, a joke, or perhaps a graph.
But, to get the students to do meaningful activities. Here’s what you can do:
- Let them role-play the concept during online math lessons
- Do a revision activity, particularly one that helps them to remember the equations and mathematical principles
- Discuss (either one-on-one or in pairs) higher-level questions about comparison, analysis, etc.
- Get their ideas and feelings about the topic (However, this is rare in most math classes. Students will appreciate being asked – and getting a response to their concerns)
- Ask students to create their own questions to help them gain insights into maths. Also, get them to share their questions during the online classes and solve them.
Communicate Expectations But Emphasize Time On Task
While it’s important to have high expectations, it is also critical that these expectations are clearly communicated to students. Likewise, emphasize time on task as learning takes time. It is also preferable to communicate clear expectations for participation and for interaction. You must consider the significant time required to learn and practice a math concept irrespective of the flexible schedule during online classes.
Well! As much as it’s important for you to communicate expected time commitments, you must also be realistic with the expectations. Assigning students the task to solve 50 maths equations by the next day may not completely be realistic. Having high expectations but respecting the time required by students to interact with the learning material and grasp the concept will allow them to engage with the subject in more meaningful and purposeful ways.
The most efficient maths teachers set effective goals and clear learning objectives for students and themselves. Apart from setting students up for success in school, effective goal-setting also helps increase awareness of student’s strengths and weaknesses in various math concepts, clarify the learning path and build problem-solving skills. So, set goals and give students clear directives on how to improve. As you start to think about setting expectations for students, you must consider SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.)
- Test a student’s knowledge in comprehension during each lesson. It helps you to respond to student’s questions and provide a better understanding of the topic. You must also offer feedback that allows students to know how their performance matches up with your expectations. The timely, detailed, and constructive feedback can assist students in understanding academic expectations clearly.
- Consider the five interrelated components of math education to set realistic expectations and emphasize the time required for learning. These components are defined as conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning and productive disposition. All five of these components should be at the foundation of goals, strategies, instruction, and assessments as you guide your students toward mathematical proficiency.
- Communicate clearly and often about expectations and deadlines. Establish netiquette rules upfront and be transparent about your math classroom’s learning objectives.
- Every week, provide a list of math deliverables: solve this set of equations and submit on this date. What should they be working on, where, and with whom? Where and how should their work be submitted? Establish specific deadlines for different concepts taught in your virtual classroom and follow a consistent weekly routine.
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