Book Review: How “Math in Practice” Transformed my Teaching

Chapter 6, lesson 1. Chapter 6, lesson 2. Chapter 6, lesson 3. This is what my lesson plan book used to look like for math. Sure, I differentiated, used small group instruction, and retaught as needed, but there was very little thought put into HOW to teach the lesson. I used manipulatives as appropriate, created interactive notebooks, had math centers for reinforcements and enrichment, and utilized technology for support. However, the reality is that my primary instruction left something to be desired. Despite the fact that I was a math major my first two years of college, math quickly became my least favorite time of the day. I dreaded the monotony of standing in front of the room, modeling and guiding students through problem after problem, only to have the majority not grasp the concepts taught. I knew I had to find a better way.

At my school, the expected norm was to go through the book lesson by lesson. (Even when pacing guides dictated a different order, the lesson-by-lesson mentality of how it was taught was still the same.) The basic structure of the curriculum didn’t require me to put much thought into it. I wasn’t intentionally planning opportunities for surface learning, deeper learning, and transfer learning. As I researched, I was tasked with the challenge that a solution couldn’t completely replace my current curriculum. I needed a way to improve how I was teaching the curriculum I had been given. When I came across “Math in Practice” (Heinemann Publishers), I immediately knew that I had found my answer. I downloaded the free sample, which happened to coincide with my next unit, and got to work. (You can download a sample HERE.)

Now, instead of planning lesson-by-lesson, I had a guide which allowed me to see the overarching process that could lead my students to understanding. Now, instead of models being the hindrance to students’ mastery, models became the foundation which led to their understanding as they explored new concepts. Within the week, I had petitioned my principal to allow me to continue. I showed him the benefit, its ability to integrate with any mandated curriculum, and he ended up purchasing it for me to further pilot.

HOW I taught instantly became better. One thing that can be so difficult for teachers is asking appropriate questions. I was no different. Math in Practice guides teachers through possible questions to ask students as they teach. After using it for a time, my questioning skills drastically improved. I now ask deeper, more meaningful questions that engage students and encourage more math talk.

Another benefit has been how I structure my instruction. Math pacing is a challenge because it pushes us to move through so many concepts in such a short amount of time. I didn’t feel like I had time to give to inquiry and exploration. I just needed to teach, teach, teach to get through the required lessons. Now, when I introduce a new concept, the first day or two is typically spent transferring past skills into an inquiry lesson on the new skill, and then working together to form new ideas based on our discovery. This is done with models and manipulatives, and it allows me to teach those lessons in the required curriculum in a better way. I have time for this because it allows me to replace worksheet-based instruction with hands-on experience. Also, because students gain a firmer understanding, I end up saving time in later instruction. The processes make more sense to them, and they master them more quickly.

Other improvements that have taken place include increased student collaboration, more opportunities for math talk, improved teacher clarity, and more deep and transfer-level learning. In other words, my classroom is now an exciting place during math. Students are active in their learning, and the room buzzes with the sounds of discovery and accountable talk. As a bonus, I’m feeling a lot less like the adults on Charlie Brown! Win! Math in Practice is a book I recommend in the professional development course I teach, and I truly believe every K-5 classroom could benefit from it. It is a resource that can complement any curriculum and raise the quality of instruction.

If you decide Math in Practice is something you’d like to implement, check out the “Math in Practice” Facebook group with author Sue O’Connell. She is great about answering questions, and it is a great place for collaboration.

{I am not affiliated with Heinemann and I received nothing for sharing this review.}