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Research shows that strong home/school relationships, playful activities, and ‘learning by explaining’ can help students with math learning.

3 simple ways educators and families can accelerate math learning

Research shows that strong home/school relationships, playful activities, and ‘learning by explaining’ can help students who are struggling

Key points:

  • The latest assessments have made it clear that math achievement has plummeted
  • A combination of home-school communication and play-based activities can help students struggling with math
  • See related article: We can teach math better–here’s how

As the most recent nation’s report card made painfully clear, American students are struggling in math. At the same time, administrators, teachers, and parents are finding new ways to help these students address learning loss.

During my 20+ years in K–12 education, I’ve seen technology play a growing role in making learning more accessible and effective. As schools explore edtech solutions to improve learning outcomes, I want to bring to light three evidence-based learning methods that have withstood the test of time. Regardless of the resources at their disposal,  educators and families alike can benefit from these simple and effective strategies.

1. Extend learning into the home.

Research has shown that schools that developed strong, trusting relationships with families prior to the pandemic had a smoother transition back to in-person learning and suffered less learning loss. It certainly makes sense for educators to build and sustain partnerships with families, but what does that look like on a day-to-day basis?

One effective way to build the capacity of both educators and families is Dr. Karen Mapp’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework. It’s based on the “4 Cs:” Capabilities (i.e., skills & knowledge), Connections, Cognition, and Confidence.

Teachers can build the 4 Cs and strengthen their relationships with families by assigning home activities based on what they are teaching that week. With PowerMyLearning’s Family Playlists, for example, each math activity focuses on a learning goal aligned to national and state standards. To connect teachers with families in the most convenient way possible, activities are delivered via a text message translated into their language of choice.

Once students and their families complete an activity or learning game, families have an opportunity to rate their student’s understanding of the topic and share more about their experience with the teacher. This information enables the teacher to assess each student’s needs and strengthen their connections with families.

By engaging families as co-creators, teachers honor parents’ knowledge and create a welcoming culture that encourages parents to participate in their children’s education.

2. Make math playful.

The value of games in enhancing learning has been demonstrated through dozens of studies. For example, a study published in Southeast Asia Early Childhood Journal found that using games was an effective strategy to improve early mathematics performance.

Research has also shown that mathematical games focus students with goals, promote active learning, and build both self-confidence and social skills. The most effective games balance skill and luck to keep students engaged and enhance social and emotional learning by allowing children to experience both winning and losing.

For example, in an activity that involves adding three numbers, a child and a family partner might take turns rolling a die to determine how many eyes to draw on a monster. After three turns, each adds up their eyes, and the one with the greatest number wins.

Having teachers provide guidance on how each game can be made “easier” or “more challenging” makes these activities accessible to diverse learners. For example, a child and a family partner might take turns adding nickels, dimes, or quarters with the goal of getting to $1. If the child is having a hard time, the family partner can simplify the game by playing with only nickels and dimes. If the game feels too easy, the family partner can increase the complexity by giving players the option to add one or two coins during each turn.

This level of differentiation, which may be difficult to achieve in a classroom of many students, is easier to accomplish in a 1:1 setting at home.

3. Embrace “learning by explaining.”

A 2008 study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that when children give explanations for what they’ve learned, their problem-solving accuracy improves.

The most effective learning acceleration activities teachers can assign prompt children to explain what they’ve just learned to a family member. The home/school connection can be completed by the family partner uploading a short video of the student’s explanation so their teacher can see it.

As Dr. Steven Sheldon of Johns Hopkins University has put it, this sort of two-way online communication “provides educators with a way to develop relationships with families who they might not have otherwise gotten the chance to have a face-to-face relationship with.”

With these three strategies, teachers, students, and families collaborate to activate a powerful community to accelerate math learning.

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