4 ways to teach math with edtech

March 23, 2021Ellen Watkins

Teaching math can often feel like an uphill battle. It’s common for students to come into a math classroom with expectations: we often hear students say, “math is dry,” or “math is hard, I’m just not good at math.”  

However, for those of us who love it, we know that there is so much more to learning math. Mathematics is more than crunching numbers or following a predetermined set of steps — math instruction can be a rich experience, full of questioning, exploration, and discovery. 

In this guide, we’ll show you a few ways to capture that energy and bring it into your math classroom using interactive tools.

Write About Math

To take math instruction off the page, ask students to explore what their work means. Calculating the solution to a problem is only one aspect of doing math; students also grow as mathematicians by discussing their work. With writing, you can ask your students to access deeper meaning within their work – by analyzing a story question, setting a goal, writing a plan before they solve a problem, discussing the steps they took to solve it, or justifying their answer (to name a few)! 

There’s no end to how students benefit from writing in mathematics. Writing has been shown to improve students’ grasp of mathematical reasoning and problem solving, use of evidence and logical processing, and ability to communicate their findings more clearly and effectively (source). Simply put, writing expands students’ ability to be analytical problem-solvers. 

Nearpod’s open-ended question feature can help you bring more writing into your instruction. When previewing a challenging question, you can ask students to pause and write a goal or a plan for the question before they begin. Instead of having to circulate around the room to check each student’s work, their plans will arrive on your screen in real-time, and you can focus on the students who need you most.

You can also use this tool to bring more dialogue into your classroom. After solving a problem, use an Open-Ended Question to prompt students to defend their answer; you may ask them to justify each step, or focus on one part of the question to dissect. With the “Share” tool, you can broadcast any student answer anonymously, and use it to open up discussion with your students: Do they agree with this student? How was this answer strong, or how could it be improved? 

Math Vocabulary

It’s no secret that math has its own language. Whether your students are learning to find partial products and how many quarts fit inside a gallon, or to calculate continuous functions and find derivatives, students are engaging in decoding and internalizing new vocabulary. It can be challenging for students, especially our students who read below grade level or who are learning English, and these challenges can compound over time (source), leaving struggling students behind.

It might feel tedious to dedicate a whole lesson to vocabulary or to ask your students to devote class time to making flash cards. The good news is, you don’t have to. Integrate a Matching Paris activity into your lessons, instead. Nearpod’s Matching Pairs tool is an interactive and attention-grabbing way to practice math terms: in a Matching Pairs moment, students’ screens fill with tiles that disappear as they correctly match each term with its definition. Students have as many chances as they need until they match each term with its correct definition.

This activity can be meaningful in your classroom in so many different ways, because it’s flexible. You curate the terms and definitions that fit your content. You can choose to cover many terms during a review lesson, or cover only a few key words for a quick check for understanding. With instant data, you can create targeted support groups and tier your instruction to match your students’ diverse needs.

Exploring Graphs

Analyzing data is one of the most powerful and important elements of mathematics instruction. Graphs and tables are common in everyday life, and teaching your students to become “fluent” in graphs and tables empowers them not only to excel in class, but also to make more sense of the world around them. Taking data and turning it into a graph is no small feat, though — and interpreting data from a graph can be even more challenging for students. You can use technology to breathe life into graphing and graph analysis in your classroom using Nearpod’s Draw It feature.

There are many steps to constructing a graph, and more likely than not, your students come into class with different levels of mastery: some of your students may be ready to plot, while others are still grappling to discern the x axis from the y axis. Using the Nearpod Draw It tool, you can quickly see each student’s individual progress. Each student’s work is displayed on your teacher panel, and it updates in real-time to show you their work as they progress through a problem. With this data, you can narrate common misconceptions for the whole class, and you can visit individual students for targeted support. With the “share” feature, you can also show-call student work — Nearpod will broadcast an individual student’s graph anonymously to every student’s screen, and your class can discuss (or admire!) their work. 

The Draw It tool can also help you deepen how your students analyze data. You can upload any graph as a “background” that students can then draw upon. Ask students to annotate a graph to find the peak, individual data points, or outliers. You may want to show your students a graph that is missing certain data, like axis labels or a scale, and ask them to fill in the missing information. If your students are learning to construct their own graphs, a popular student activity is to “grade the graph:” create a graph riddled with errors, then ask your students to mark (and correct) as many mistakes as they can find!

Number Talks

Number talks are a great way to build numeracy and number sense with your students. Number talks are short (10-ish minutes) question-based discussions that complement your regular instruction. They can become high-leverage learning moments in your classroom, because you’re asking students to generate solutions and evaluate strategies. In a number talk, you may ask students to find a rule, solve a problem, or analyze a pattern. The key is that students are independently designing and describing their pathways to solve the problem, and then collaboratively sharing and critiquing their ideas.

To do a number talk with your students, present the class with a problem and ask them to mentally solve the problem (but don’t share their answer). When students have found a solution, they’ll signal to you that they’ve solved it, and if they can find more than one way to solve the problem, they signal that, too. Instead of a public signal like a raised hand, which can be overwhelming or discouraging to surrounding students, try giving your students a Poll question on Nearpod: “How many solutions can you find to this problem?” You’ll receive instant data about which students have solutions, and can pull ideas from across your classroom — even if a student has put their hand down.

The “talk” portion of a Number Talk is the most essential: this is where students share out their solutions and evaluate them. It can feel energizing to hear active minds at work, but it can be overwhelming to record your students’ ideas as they share them aloud. Instead, ask your students to explain their ideas on a Collaborate Board. Collaborate Boards create a public space for all of your students to respond to a question, and each student’s response shows up as a virtual post-it note. (As the teacher, you can see who wrote which response but the responses are anonymous to students.) Your students can practice explaining their ideas in writing, they’ll have a clean and organized view of everyone’s ideas, and they can vote for their favorite responses by clicking the heart icon on the post-its they agree with most.

Digital interactives are a fun way to make your math instruction more dynamic. With these tools, you can bring energy to your classroom and enhance your students’ mastery of mathematics, all while gathering meaningful, real-time data. Happy teaching! 

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