In these uncertain times as teachers, parents and carers prepare for learning from home, I thought it would be good to share some strategies to keep young students engaged – particularly in mathematics.
Keep it short
I remember somewhere along the way in my teacher education degree being told that to work out young children’s attention span, add two to their age, for example, an eight year old has a 10 minute attention span. Whether or not this is completely accurate or not, it makes sense to consider how long students should be spending on an activity or ‘lesson’ when working one-on-one or remotely. Instructions need to be short, and student-driven exploration needs to be the focus. I think this will be especially important when planning multiple lessons across the day. When I worked for the NSW Department of Education, one of our techniques was Short, Focused and Frequent activities in mathematics. Revisiting ideas across a day or over a week is a good place to start.
Resources for Keeping it short
Grade 1 and 2 Addition and Subtraction SFFs from NSW Department of Education
Number talks are great for example, https://mathforlove.com/lesson/number-talks/, https://nrich.maths.org/14005, http://www.meaningfulmathmoments.com/number-talks.html
Real-world uses of mathematics can be explored throughout the day at home, here are some examples https://www.imaginelearning.com/blog/2017/04/math-real-life-examples
Think about timing
Communication is important between teachers, students and parents concerning what time of day might be best for students to be learning. Some students work best first thing in the morning, others might do better after some quiet time (perhaps reading to themselves). Some learning will also need to flexible with when parents or carers are available, possibly due to work commitments. I think the key is to be flexible, adaptable and to allow students some choice and freedom over when they learn best.
As mentioned above, keep instructions short, this also goes for use of slides or presentations. Although we have the technology at hand to create interactive and dynamic presentations, we still need to mix it up, maybe more so now than ever. Videos are great ‘hooks’ into learning and for concept exploration, but hands on tasks are vital. Student feedback and discussion posts or oral sharing is also needed.
Resources to avoid death-by-powerpoint
Numerphile‘s Youtube channel is great to inspire and engage students in some extension and different mathematics (this channel is not specifically designed for school-education for young students, I’d recommend watching the videos first just to check. I use many of them but it’s often good to watch videos prior to showing them to students)
Paul Swan has quality games and resources (some are accessible for free).
“No resources needed” is a good resource
Hands on tasks and games are the bread-and-butter of the primary mathematics classroom and remote learning is no exception. The problem may be that students do not have the same resources we have in the classroom. Keeping resources that parents and carers need to a minimum is great. Cards or dominoes are great as these are still fairly common games but if students do not have access to them, then they don’t have access to the learning. My advice would be to make making resources the first few remote lesson I do, or send it home as a task. Building a cube out of paper or cardboard to create a dice, using found objects for counting like paper clips, bottle lids or rubber bands. Numeral cards can also be made with paper, or by cutting up an old calendar.
Resources for “no resources needed”
Some of these are appropriate for remote learning and require no mathematical resources https://zenomath.org/toolbox/no-materials-needed/
Great problems for students to solve Red Dragonfly Mathematics challenge
These NSW Department of Education games DO need resources (but hopefully are accessible by students) like cards, dice or dominoes
Catherine Attard’s (@attard_c) latest blog also had some important advice re resources https://engagingmaths.com/2020/03/18/teaching-maths-in-challenging-times-keep-calm-and-remain-critical/
Keep worksheets to a minimum
Good classroom practice whether online, offline, remote or face-to-face, means keeping worksheets to a minimum. Overusing worksheets or prepping ‘booklets’ to take home are a sure-way to disengage students from mathematics. Instead, send home grid paper, isometric dot paper, a hundreds chart, tens frames, an A4 sheet of dots in arrays, all of these can be used as learning tools. Giving students a problem of the day (or week) is a great idea.
Resources for Keeping worksheets to a minimum
The NSW Department of Education have also been on the front foot in designing and collating some learning from home resources, scroll down and click on mathematics for some great links to internal and external resources
Open Middle tasks are great instead of ‘doing sums’
Talking Math With Your Kids is a great website
Math Before Bed is another great way to engage children with mathematics
Books are wonderful, How Many by Christopher Danielson (@Trianglemancsd) is a great mathematics picture book, here are more mathematics books as well suggested by the Victorian Department of Education
Instilling in students the joy of learning is still the main aim. Engagement is key, and particularly in mathematics, a subject that many students make up their mind about liking or not from an early age. Game-based mathematics is a way build mathematics concepts at home or during remote learning situations. Even playing games such as tic-tac-toe, Connect 4, Snap, Bingo, Boxes, Yhatzee, Pick-up-sticks and dare I say, Monopoly, all assist in developing reasoning skills, critical and creative thinking and problem solving skills that are vital for mathematics.
We have some games on our resources page, many of our blogs suggest ideas that can be used for remote learning so check those out too. And a reminder for teachers that our numeracy courses are all online and available for completing at your own set time. I hope these suggestions are helpful as we adapt our practices and create new learning spaces during the coming weeks and months. It is so encouraging to see the online social media sharing of ideas and resources to assist teachers, parents and carers at this time, so thank you.