Learning

As students settle into the 2021-2022 academic year, the world is still in the midst of a pandemic and continued uncertainty. We know that students’ school experience over the last 18 months has been challenging and that there is overwhelming worry among teachers that students have entered their mathematics classrooms without exposure to and/or mastery of previous grade-level mathematical skills and concepts. While there is a great deal of variability in the learning students have brought with them and significant unpredictability about more school disruptions to the school year, one thing is certain: schools need to address students’ unfinished learning while engaging the whole child in grade-level content.
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What. A. Year. Pandemic, political upheaval, shuttered small businesses, separation from family and friends, overwhelmed hospitals, record-setting weather, and closed school buildings are just a few of the lemons we have faced. We remember those whose journey ended during these challenges, offer sympathy to those who lost loved ones and compassion to those grappling with the trauma of the past year.
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There has been much media coverage recently about “learning loss” that has occurred during the pandemic. Such reports often reference studies that have attempted to predict or measure student performance in reading and mathematics using  common assessment instruments such as the NWEA Map Test (e.g., Kuhfeld et al., 2020) or iReady (Curriculum Associates, 2021). Findings show that, compared to previous school years, students perform lower on these assessments in both reading and mathematics. These studies also show that the most marginalized students are disproportionally affected, with drops in performance being greater for the lowest performing students, and for students attending schools that serve a majority of Black and Latinx students or schools in low-income zip codes.
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As the saying goes, “Maslow before Bloom.” These three words sum up decades of research that show how a sense of physical and emotional safety is the foundation for the development of social, emotional, and academic competencies. Learning environments that are emotionally supportive are associated with a variety of positive outcomes in mathematics classrooms, such as improved mathematics achievement, greater engagement, greater effort, and less fear of making mistakes.
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Mathematics is full of specialized vocabulary and technical terms, and becoming familiar with mathematical language is an important part of learning in this subject. Word walls are valuable tools that teachers can use to support students’ use of mathematical language as they express their thinking when speaking and writing. Word walls are particularly helpful for multilingual learners who are learning English.
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One of the underlying beliefs that guides Math for All is that in order to learn mathematics well, students must engage with rich problems. Rich problems allow ALL students, with a variety of neurodevelopmental strengths and challenges, to engage in mathematical reasoning and become flexible and creative thinkers about mathematical ideas. In this Math for All Updates, we review what rich problems are, why they are important, and where to find some ready to use. In a later Math for All Updates we will discuss how to create your own rich problems customized for your curriculum.
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One of the underlying beliefs that guides Math for All is that in order to learn mathematics well, students must engage with rich problems. Rich problems allow ALL students, with a variety of neurodevelopmental strengths and challenges, to engage in mathematical reasoning and become flexible and creative thinkers about mathematical ideas. In this Math for All Updates, we review what rich problems are, why they are important, and where to find some ready to use. In a later Math for All Updates we will discuss how to create your own rich problems customized for your curriculum.
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Math anxiety is more than just being nervous about math. It is characterized by feelings of panic, tension, and helplessness aroused by doing math or even just thinking about it (Ashcraft & Kirk, 2001). Researchers think that about 20 percent of the population suffers from it. But having mathematical anxiety does not mean that a student is not good at math. Even accomplished mathematicians, such as Laurent Schwartz and Maryam Mirzakhani, reported having suffered from it. Math anxiety is not the result of doing poorly in mathematics; rather, a student may do poorly in mathematics because they feel anxious about it.
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Planning for remote learning may require more flexibility than does planning lessons for our classrooms. Students are engaging in mathematics outside of school, where support may vary. In addition, access to materials, including technology, will vary from student to student. Interdisciplinary lessons are one way to address a variety of situations and needs during remote learning, and also present an opportunity that is enhanced by remote learning.

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