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Creating a Math-Positive Learning Environment

Boosting PreK-12 Instruction

In many districts, math instruction and curriculum remains isolated from larger conversations around growth and mastery — it’s considered a specialized subject, available in an rigorous format only to certain students. But across the country, district leaders are beginning to recognize the importance of comprehensive and effective math education for all students, at all proficiency levels. Like literacy, mathematical fluency is foundational for securing a path to college and career readiness. STEM jobs are on the rise: according to the National Science Foundation and the Bureau of Labor Statistics , science and engineering jobs will grow by 18.7% for the 2010–2020 period, as compared to 14.3% for all occupations. When district leaders consider the type of learning environment or atmosphere they want to foster and maintain in their schools, math positivity should be at the top of the list. All students deserve a classroom experience that arms them with core mathematical skills, and a learning community that believes in their mathematical intelligence.

But, math instruction carries some stigma. Due to societal expectations, standards, and stereotypes, many students are under the impression that only a certain type of student has the ability to excel at math. Many others feel that math lacks room for creativity or alternative methods of learning and displaying growth (math might mean confusing and dull lectures, worksheets, and stressful assessments). Math can be intimidating or off-putting for students — some genuinely feel that they are not capable of succeeding, and others have some disengagement due to preconceived notions and poor experiences. So, changing your students’ and teachers’ relationship to math instruction might not be an easy task for your district or learning community. That’s why we’ve put together a guide to help district leaders outline a plan, entitled, “Best Practices for Creating a Math Positive Learning Environment”. The guide goes in-depth on three key components of changing a mathematical teaching and learning environment: curriculum, leadership, and a shared mindset. Download the full guide in the link below, or read on for a sneak peak and general overview of the guide’s content.

3 Best Practices for Creating a Math Positive Learning Environment

Effective Curriculum

Choosing the right curriculum is key to fostering a math-positive learning environment. Beyond alignment with standards, an effective math curriculum will be flexible, make purposeful use of digital tools and resources, integrate a conceptual learning component, and have curriculum-focused professional development. Curriculum should be flexible enough to allow teachers to use the content in such a way that best supports their teaching style, and flexible enough to balance outside expectations with student needs. For a brief success story of bringing flexible math curriculum to the classroom, download the guide. Math curriculum should also incorporate digital tools to differentiate content and instruction, and make math accessible for all learners. The conceptual component of curriculum should connect instruction with real-world problem solving, and bring a creative element to the math classroom — see the full guide for examples of conceptual teaching tactics. Finally, when selecting a math curriculum, consider how easy it is for teachers to implement professional development learnings in the moment of teaching — PD should be connected directly to curriculum and focus on growth.

Driven Leadership

Any school environment or atmospheric change starts with district leaders. They set the tone for the entire student/teacher community’s attitudes towards learning. The “Best Practices” guide focuses on three elements of a math-positive leadership team: a culture of growth, encouraging shared leadership, and time for collaboration. A culture of growth should apply to students and teachers, and district leaders should establish an environment in which the idea that “everyone is always learning” is a given, or even a mantra. It’s also important to encourage teachers to grow by sharing leadership roles and opportunities — this means that teachers should learn from each other, have access to a bank of resources for growth, and routinely step out of their comfort zones. In math instruction, collaboration is especially important, and administrators should provide time for teacher collaboration. For more advice and inspiration on leadership, browse these guest blog pieces from educational leaders:

District-Wide Shared Mindset

Finally, math positivity should extend beyond district leaders. Students can begin to draw the connections between math instruction and broader skills, or their future careers, when math class is about problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge application. To foster these skills and spread math positivity throughout your district, the “Best Practices” guide recommends championing the importance of mathematical thinking by setting the expectation that all students can excel in math. You can also foster math positivity by moving from “sage on the stage” model to to conceptual instruction — potentially by establishing a flipped classroom. It’s also important to provide opportunities for struggle, and to balance individualized instruction with collaboration. To lean more about each of these strategies, and find in-depth examples for making them a reality, download the full guide.

Download the full “Best Practices for Creating a Math Positive Learning Environment” guide below:



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McGraw Hill

McGraw Hill

Helping educators and students find their path to what’s possible. No matter where the starting point may be.