What exactly are effective math lessons?  If your answer has to do with students getting the correct answer, passing a test or even liking math, then I will have to disagree with you.  Sometimes as teachers I think we get too wrapped up in answers and we don't focus enough on the process.

A Different Way of Teaching

So often our math methodology involves telling the student what steps to follow and then having them practice, practice, practice.  It's kind of like serving a grilled cheese sandwich to them every day for lunch.  Eventually, they get bored and frustrated.  However, if instead of serving a grilled cheese sandwich we just provided the ingredients and the opportunity to learn to make it, we give them so much more.

Math is the same way.  It's easy for us to tell because that is what teachers are supposed to do, right?  Well, not exactly.  We actually rob our students of opportunities to learn to DO math themselves.  Math is thinking, it's problem-solving.  Not just a 'look for the keywords' kind of problem-solving but the 'think it through' kind of problem-solving.

One of the wisest things I was ever told about math is this, "There's more than one way to skin a cat."  {Please don't email about this being an animal cruelty statement.  No cats were harmed - just wisdom shared which I wanted to pass on to you too!}  For most kinds of math problems, there is more than one way to get to the correct answer.  Our students need to know this and they need to know how to think through it.  Let's give them the ingredients and the opportunities and see what they can do.

This, my friends, teaching our students to think through math, is what I call an effective math lesson.  Answers don't have to be right for learning to happen.  In fact, I dare say that more learning happens with incorrect answers when we challenge our students to find their mistakes.

So what does this look like in the classroom?

Well, it has to start with us, the teachers.  We have to be willing to take the first step - the hardest one.  We have to be willing to do things differently.  Instead of thinking of yourself as a math teacher, think of yourself as a problem-solving facilitator.  Give your students the ingredients, offer guidance when needed, and then let them loose to see what they figure out on their own.
For example, you might give them the sum and one of the addends and ask them to figure out the other addend: 5 + ? = 9. You will see that students will approach this differently.  Some will use a counting up method while others use subtraction.  Some will draw a picture and others will grab manipulatives.  Are any of these wrong?  Absolutely not.  Are any of these the right way?  Yes, all of them!   Regardless of how the students get there, they will work it out while being focused and engaged in the learning.  In their own ways, they will remember what they did and be able to do it again in the future.  They might even learn a new method from a classmate.

Do it again and again.  Give your students lots of opportunities to figure it out themselves.  Model math talk and problem-solving thinking.  Talk about math and make math a normal part of everyday life.  We can change the environment of the math classroom by changing the methodology.  It won't be easy, because we have to change ourselves first.  But we can do it! We can create effective math lessons.
Before your next math lesson say this to yourself: "Don't tell them what to do, give them the ingredients."

Where Do I Start?

Do you need a little help figuring out where to start?  I have put together several problem-solving pages that will give you the start you need.  Did you know that there are 11 different types of addition and subtraction problems?  Here's an amazing bundle that gives your students practice in all of the problem types.

Create a Classroom of Problem Solvers

Have you ever heard the statement "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime?"  It's this exact concept that we can put into practice in our classrooms.  We can tell them what to do or we can teach them to think like problem solvers.  I don't know about you but I want the latter for my students.

Save this for Later . . .

Just pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you come back when you are ready to teach your students important problem-solving skills.