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Math Teaching: What We've Learned From Research Over a Decade


A new paper from the Institute for Education Sciences lists 28 ways federally funded research has changed what we know about how to teach whole numbers, fractions, algebra, and other math topics


IES, part of the U.S. Department of Education, funded more than 200 studies about math instruction between 2002 and 2013. A synthesis of that research, published this month, lays out some of the contributions these studies have made to the field.

For example, IES-funded research found that:

  • Switching up the formatting of arithmetic problems can help students better understand the equal sign. That is, instead of just presenting 9 + 4 = ___, teachers may also want to show  ___ = 9 + 4. 
  • Students do better with fractions when they view them as numbers on a number line, rather than as parts of a whole. (This is a big change in many classrooms, and something the Common Core State Standards require.)
  • Students should confront and analyze common math misconceptions. For instance, many students believe that 0.25 is bigger than 0.5, since 25 is bigger than 5. The teacher should show examples in which a student gets this wrong. "This stands in contrast to concerns by teachers that presenting and discussing incorrect solutions will reinforce and increase their use," the report states. 
  • Using gestures and physical movement can help students better understand math concepts. "For example, teachers [can use] gestures to simulate actions, such as placing their arm at different angles to simulate the action of altering the slope of a line," says the report.

There are two dozen more of these concrete findings in the report, as well as information on the research studies they were distilled from. 

The whole report is worth a look—particularly by teachers looking to incorporate more "research based" practices into their everyday instruction.

Image: Getty

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