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Math scores are down, how can students be better taught math in classrooms?

By: Helena Horsley 

GAINESVILLE, FL ( — The U.S. trails other high-income countries in math performance, and lately more students graduate high school with deficits in basic math skills according to recent statistics. The pandemic caused math scores in American schools to go down significantly. Teachers are working diligently to turn this around by implementing new strategies to teach math in the classroom.  

Some researchers have started pushing for more focus on research-based practices for teaching math. Experts say this new math research hasn’t gotten as much funding or attention beyond the elementary level.  

“I don’t think the movement has caught on yet. I think it’s an idea,” said Matthew Burns, a professor of special education at the University of Florida

College students and professor in classroom practicing math skill.

This new research idea is focused on the science of math. The foremost principle of this concept is that math instruction must be systematic and explicit. Teachers give clear and precise instructions and introduce new concepts in small chunks while building on older concepts.  

The traditional method has students explore and discover concepts on their own, with the teacher nudging them along. 

The science of math is similar to the science of reading in that it emphasizes detailed, explicit instructions, instead of letting kids guess based on context clues. There has become a “math war” over certain teaching practices on different topics.  

Researchers say a key principle of the science of math is that both big-picture concepts and learning how to do calculations are important. Teachers need to foster procedural as well as conceptual understanding in students.  

While research has begun on the science of math, some disagree that the concept could exist in the way it does for reading.  

An elementary school student practicing math in the classroom. 

“Reading is a topic where we have a much larger amount of good, solid, casual research that can link instruction to student achievement,” education researcher Tom Loveless said. 

According to experts, the less advanced state of research on math reflects societal values in the U.S. and how many teachers themselves feel more invested in reading. 

Many elementary school teachers doubt their own math ability and struggle with anxiety around teaching it. Although, researchers say there is enough research out there to make a difference in the classroom. 

About Helena Horsley

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