Changing the culture of mathematics instruction to better prepare students

Using technology to supplement and complement the work of math teachers
By: | Issue: March, 2018 | Thought Leadership
January 31, 2018

What should change about the current culture of mathematics instruction?

We are preparing students who are in school today for jobs that we cannot yet imagine. We need to change school culture, including math instruction, to reflect societal change. We need to help students learn to use mathematics as a tool to recognize and respond to what’s happening in the world around them. Instruction has to change to make that happen. Mathematics in today’s society is not about memorizing facts, but about understanding which variables impact the way we tackle problems and their solutions. For example, I would argue that today a relevant way to teach variables in algebra is as the references for cells in spreadsheets. This representation and the way we work with spreadsheets can help teachers and students talk about mathematics in a different way.

Talk about the growing need for professional development for K12 mathematics educators.

We are asking teachers to change how they teach mathematics. Professional development is essential to show educators this new practice. We might have a workshop setting that shows a math class in which participants focus on learning and discourse within small groups that work together to solve challenging problems. We need to give teachers the opportunity to experience this kind of learning themselves before we ask them to use it in their own teaching. Professional development must both model the new practices and provide teachers with strategies to implement these new practices.

Through their own professional learning, how can educators help students develop a deep understanding, fluency of skills and applications of mathematics?

The changes we are talking about will help teachers make learning more enjoyable for students, which will make learning more productive. If teachers have the broader content knowledge—if they not only know the steps for an algorithm multiplying two-digit numbers, but they also understand why it works and that there are other ways to approach it—they will be able to help students understand which strategy and approach work best in which situation. Teachers can gain strength from working in collaboration. For example, if I teach third grade and I spend time talking with my colleagues in second grade and fourth grade, I can better understand what to expect of students entering third grade and what fourth-grade teachers expect the following year. It’s also about research-based practice. The work of John Hattie on Visible Learning, for example, shows if teachers want to build math fluency, spreading out the work over time, or spaced practice, is more effective than massed practice with large sets of problems on worksheets.

What is the role of technology in the culture change we’re talking about? How is tech driving the change? How can it help make the change more productive?

Technology supplements and complements what teachers can do, but it cannot replace their work. Technology gives teachers more resources, support and options. The availability of resources across print and digital platforms provides flexibility to make these changes in teaching practice at a rate that fits the needs of individual teachers.

To read more from Dr. Sara Delano Moore, visit