how to teach maths

How to teach Maths as a language

This is an important concept that has been discussed by teachers across many areas of education worldwide. How do you effectively teach a concept to your student and help them retain that knowledge? How do you support them and their way of learning to make sure they've understood, and can use what they've been taught not only in tests and exams, but in real life situations?

It is the crux of all learning. When you have a specific amount of time with each student, and a specific amount of content to get through each lesson, what is the most effective way to impart new concepts? 

In this article, we will be discussing the importance of combining your student's mental awareness and tactile experience to help them learn productively and achieve better results in any subject. 

How do you effectively teach a language?

Language is important. It's important to start learning to speak, to read and write. In the same way that it's important for a child to learn to crawl (and later walk, run and swim) because it means they've become part of the family and the wider community.

As a natural part of parenting, you start teaching language to your little ones as part of everyday interactions. You teach them words like "yes," "no", "mum" and "dad'. These words expand out to bigger words, then sentences…. until suddenly they are starting their first day of high school and are handing in 2,000 word essays to their teacher.

It's a process, and by teaching language in a clear, succinct and step-by-step manner with the tactile experience of what each word means, your student will be able to accelerate their learning and excel in their subjects. 

Teaching in a tactile way is essential

Although you can accept or understand what something is without seeing it, touching it or feeling it for yourself, there is a much greater opportunity to integrate understanding and use it ongoing by using tactile experience to introduce a new subject. Especially with maths, your student needs to not only understand the concepts they are being taught, but also be able to use those concepts in maths equations, tests, exams and real life situations. 

Let's look at a simple example. 

If you tell your child that a rocket exists, they could probably imagine a big shooting torpedo travelling to outer space. They probably have a whole lot more questions about it!

If you then watch a video of a rocket, they will be able to see the rocket in action, how it fires up and shoots off into space.

However, if you take them to visit a real rocket, have them touch and feel the outside of the rocket, feel the heat of the fire and the explosion as it takes off, they will never forget about a rocket!

The same for maths. Students can understand the topic of a number, and that it represents the value or number of something, but if they don't get the tactile, hands-on, feeling experience of numbers, they are missing out on the entire experience. 

Teaching maths as a language means involved all sense, and all learning styles, into teaching this new concept to your students.

Here's a short video from Esther White, explaining more:

Click to play

Maths is a language too

In the same way they learn language, it's also important for students to learn maths. At two or three years old, they won't need to know their numbers, but as they grow older, they’ll need an understanding of numbers for everyday life. Both "Wait for three minutes" and "pass me 2 apples and 4 oranges from the fruit bowl" use maths and that's part of daily conversation in the household.

The weekly grocery shopping needs maths. If you want to make sure all four of you have enough bread for the week, a basic maths understanding would needed to calculate four people x slices of bread x days of the week. Your weekly budget; the distance from home to the beach; the shape of your back yard; the dose of a medicine; the time needed to be ready for an outing; and the list goes on and on and on. When you think about it, you see that the study of almost every other subject of interest requires an understanding of maths.

Have a look at the diagram below. It shows the progression of numbers from the ancient times to modern day numerals. Very similar to language, maths has been updated and adapted over time. When life was far simpler, we started counting with lines...and have now developed a worldwide standard representation system for identifying numbers and this “language of maths”. 

how to teach maths

How do we effectively teach the language of maths?

It's important to have a strong framework to teach maths. There are so many numbers and symbols which, without a guided system that progresses from addition to complicated algebraic equations, can be tough to comprehend. So, to ensure understanding, here's what research says you need to incorporate when teaching maths:

  • Foundations established firstly
  • Systematic progress
  • Clear and explicit instruction
  • Cumulative review
  • Hands-on manipulatives
  • Ongoing Assessment
  • Direct modelling and demonstration

All of these essential components, combined with a mastery based approach, are sure to set your student up for success. Mastery-based learning is an instructional approach where students need to demonstrate a deep level of understanding of a topic or subject area before progressing onto another topic or subject area. There's no point, especially not in maths. If they don't understand Place Value now, be certain that they will struggle extensively throughout high school. Numbers need places, the same way letters need to be spelt in the correct order.

If you want to find out how to easily teach maths in a systematic, step by step way using research proven methodologies, you can join the online and in-person Teacher Trainings that have just recently become available (due to the endless requests from teachers and tutors alike!). 

If you've got any questions about teaching maths in a supportive and effective way for your students, add your comments below or email us directly.

We're happy to help!

The Team at Maths Australia

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