While teachers of all subjects have felt the effects of shifting classroom settings, math educators, in particular, have had to adopt all-new practices to better assess and understand their students’ progress through a screen.
The Importance of Skill Assessment in Math
Skill gaps across subjects have widened in the last couple of years, but math poses its own unique challenge because the subject is so cumulative. Skills build on earlier skills, so math gaps are even more important to identify and address quickly. In recent years, standardized and school-wide assessments have become more frequent in many schools. But these aren’t the only opportunities for teachers to assess student understanding in math.
Teachers can use everyday activities and math problems to assess standards and gain more context into students’ skill levels and learning needs.
The Challenge of Changing Classroom Formats
Before the pandemic, math teachers were well-versed in the art of circulating the room to watch as students sketched out their thinking on a math worksheet, handled their manipulatives to solve a problem, or utilized chart paper and visuals to come to a solution. These micro-movements helped form a full picture of each student’s understanding on an ongoing basis.
When schools began tackling virtual learning, math teachers lost that valuable circulation time. Without watching students’ problem-solving in action, it became more difficult to easily determine learners’ understanding of new concepts. Without the ability to watch student thinking unfold on paper, teachers had to get creative.
Strategies for Assessing and Strengthening Math Skills
Teachers across the country have collaborated, troubleshot, and innovated to create new strategies for supporting students' mathematical attainment.
1. Integrate games.
Games help get the whole class participating and talking, giving teachers a chance to see students’ math skills in action. Depending on the activity, you may get to identify common misconceptions as your students lead one another through a fun game.
There are countless ideas for math-based games online, but we like TeachTransform’s math fluency games.
2. Try new learning software.
While most schools are back on an in-person, semi-regular schedule, some campuses have had to go remote during quarantine periods or prepare materials in case a class needs to isolate. In hybrid situations and even no contact in-person models, showing work on paper to hand in simply isn’t an option for every math class.
Fortunately, there are various online programs that facilitate computer-based communication between students and teachers that go beyond simple multiple choice questions. For example, PearDeck integrates directly with Google Slides and allows learners to interact with slide presentations by drawing, dragging, and typing on-screen while teachers can observe in real time. Some curricula, like TeachTransform, offer accompanying interactive slides for students to work from as well. Lean on these programs to monitor student work and continue to “circulate” for continuous assessment.
3. Lean on story-based instruction.
Particularly in a time when keeping students engaged regardless of their location is the priority for teachers, effective math instruction must involve more than stating facts and assigning problems. In addition to being overwhelming and further contributing to the already widespread problem of math anxiety, these methods don’t allow students to solidify and conceptualize new math skills.
Story-based instruction and assessment facilitates student understanding of the “why” behind the math concepts. Curriculum resource TeachTransform provides instructional activities that build on one another and ground the learning in stories while also providing flexible options for every learner. These resources are meant to make math fun again for both students and teachers.
Integrating assessment into everyday, engaging activities allows math teachers to catch gaps as quickly as possible. Then they can close those gaps and keep the learning—and the fun—rolling.