As the new school year begins, teachers are busy establishing routines and ensuring that students are absorbing the math concepts being taught. But the real question is: Are students truly internalizing these concepts enough to apply them outside the classroom? This is where a well-thought-out project or task can make a significant difference.

**The Problem with Traditional Math Teaching**

Too often, math education focuses on teaching algorithms and procedures without delving into the “why” and “how” of math application. This approach may lead students to memorize processes without understanding their real-world relevance. If all teachers are doing is teaching the process, then all students are doing is learning a procedure and do not understand or know how to use the math they are learning! Teaching math MUST go far beyond teaching algorithms, steps, and procedures! It must teach them why and when and how to use the math that is being taught!

For instance, how did your students perform on the Indiana ILEARN Assessment or the Digital PSAT and SAT? These assessments emphasize higher-order thinking—understanding, application, and critical thinking—rather than mere memorization. Unfortunately, many students struggle with these aspects because they were never taught to connect math concepts to real-life situations.

**The State of Math Proficiency**

Looking at national and state-level assessments like the __NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress)__, the data reveals a concerning trend. In 2022, Indiana’s NAEP scores were slightly above the national average. However, only 40% of 4th graders and 30% of 8th graders were proficient in math. Moreover, 22% of 4th graders and 30% of 8th graders fell below the basic level in math proficiency. These numbers highlight the urgent need for a shift in how we teach math.

**Key Recommendations for Improvement**

1. **Systematic Approach to Intervention:** When helping students who are struggling, it’s crucial to integrate a mix of previously learned and new material. Students need to see how what they’ve learned in the past ties into current lessons and future applications.

2. **Teaching Math in Context:** It’s essential to teach math in context, making it relatable to real-world scenarios. One effective method is to use word problems, which are often disliked but are crucial for applying math outside the classroom. By understanding what quantities represent, without always solving for an unknown, students can better grasp the practical use of math.

**Making Connections to Previous Learning**

Are we connecting the math students have previously learned to what we are currently teaching them? We must make the connections between what math teachers are teaching and how that math will be used in future classes and in life. This poster makes that connection to how the math will be used.

Teachers should continuously connect current lessons to previous ones. For example, when teaching the multiplication of polynomials in Algebra 1, do we show students that this is an extension of the two-digit multiplication they learned in earlier grades? Do we show that this is really the 2-digit multiplication students learned in 3rd and 4th grade? 31 x 24 = 744 and (3x+1)(2x+4) = 6x2+14x+4 Check out how these are the exact same problem. And vice versa do we show Place Value Multiplication in 3rd and 4th grade foreshadowing their use in Algebra 1 when students will be multiplying polynomials?

Similarly, when teaching about “like terms,” do we relate it to the addition of digits they mastered in elementary school? For example, do we talk about why 40 + 3 isn’t 70 because we add the one’s digits with the one’s digits and the ten’s digits with the ten’s digits because they are “Like Terms”? Do Algebra 1 teachers talk about this when they are teaching students about adding 4x + 3 isn’t 7x? They must show students that they learned the concept of Like Terms back in 1st and 2nd grade.

**Real-World Applications**

Incorporating real-world applications into math lessons can make a significant impact. For instance, when teaching about the Pythagorean Theorem, relate it to construction practices where builders use the 3-4-5 rule to square up structures. When discussing special triangles, like Equilateral, Isosceles, 30, 60, 90, and 45, 45, 90 triangles, explain how these are used in construction and engineering, emphasizing their importance in real life.

**The Power of Word Problems**

Word problems are often seen as challenging because they require students to apply math in context. However, teachers can demystify word problems by encouraging students to create their own. This practice helps students understand how math symbols translate into real-world scenarios. For example, a first-grader might create a simple word problem for 5 - 3 = 2, while an Algebra 1 student could do the same for an equation like 5 + 7x.

When a student sees a word problem like: How many gallons of paint, that covers 375 sg. ft. per gallons, are needed to cover a rectangular room with 4 walls that are all 8 ft high and 12 ft. and 10 ft. on each side? Sadly, a typical student, or many adults for that matter, cannot determine all the basic calculations to get this problem correct. We all know, students have been taught all the skills necessary to easily complete this problem.

Math teachers must be asking students to put into words what the math symbols they are learning mean and represent. By asking the students to take the problems they are learning in math class and asking them to put those symbols into words it gives the math they are learning meaning! The words make the connections that are necessary to give the mathematics connections to something the student can understand, and grasp hold of for future use. Without these important connections math becomes a mysterious set of rules and procedures without any meaning. Sadly, that is how far too many students and adults see and experience math.

**Conclusion**

To make math meaningful, it’s crucial for teachers to help students see the connections between classroom lessons and real-world applications. By incorporating context and encouraging students to verbalize their understanding of math concepts, we can transform math from a set of mysterious rules into a valuable tool for life.

**Call to Action**

Are you ready to make math more meaningful in your classroom? Start by connecting lessons to real-world applications and encourage your students to see math as a tool they can use every day. Want to learn from INcompassing Education's Math Specialists? __Contact us today!__

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