Reading Math

You may have heard this complaint or even made it yourself: “These tests are more about reading than they are about math!”  Students are increasingly asked to understand and apply math to situations, rather than just perform an operation on numbers. This involves reading the math text that sets out the problem scenario.

Add to that the inherent difficulty of math vocabulary, where a word can mean one thing in a mathematical context and another in everyday settings.  Symbols, another part of vocabulary, can look alike but have different meanings, or different symbols can represent the same operation (for example, *, x, and · for multiplication).

And there’s the textbook, usually opened only for the problem sets, since most students are alienated by its language and its very format.

How can we help middle school students learn to read the math they need for today’s tests and high school courses?  Far from expecting teachers to stretch their class time to include yet more content, I’d like to offer online resources that can enrich math instruction as teachers help their students better understand the content they are already tackling.

Reading in the Mathematics Classroom
Written by Diana Metsisto, a middle school mathematics coach, this online chapter involves both the “why” and the “how” of integrating reading in the teaching of mathematics. She offers a number of concrete classroom strategies.

Unlocking the Mystery of Mathematics: Give Vocabulary Instruction a Chance
Math teacher Bizzie Cors realized that her students needed to “construct meaning for all vocabulary terms and connect to prior knowledge as well as to new concepts and algorithms.”  This led her to create a new process to teach vocabulary development.  Described here is what she calls the “sticky-note chain” process; its final product is a graphic organizer complete with sticky notes, connections, and problems created by the students themselves.

A Maths Dictionary for Kids
This animated, interactive mathematics dictionary for kids explains over 500 common mathematical terms in simple language. Each term is illustrated and, often, accompanied by an interactive applet that makes visual and immediate the definition of the term.

Getting to Know Your Middle Grades Mathematics Textbook
This article by Diane Kahle, an experienced teacher of middle school mathematics, shares general tips, small group and whole class ideas for textbook reading, and a ten-question scavenger hunt to help students learn how to find information in their mathematics textbook.

Books can be used to teach actual math concepts. For ideas, spend a few minutes at the Mathematics Bookshelf.

Please comment on these resources and offer your own ideas on teaching students to read math.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 10/10/2011.

Testing! Beyond One-Step Math Problems

Middle school students often do well on straight calculations but feel lost when faced with more complex problems. And many tests these days require critical thinking and ask for an extended response. As in all test preparation, students need practice, especially on problems requiring more than one-step computation. Here are sites that offer test items you might use in class reviews, challenges, quizzes, etc.  Please let us know of other treasure troves of practice problems or how you prepare your students for testing.

Searching for Solutions
Within this WebQuest is a set of individual lessons on several problem-solving techniques, such as finding patterns, making a table, working backward, and solving a simpler problem. Each strategy is explained simply, with students in mind, then activities requiring that strategy are presented. An excellent guide from an e-learning specialist on ways to attack math problems!

Balanced Assessment
A set of more than 300 assessment tasks, indexed for grades K-12. Each incorporates a story problem format and includes hands-on activities. Rubrics provided.

Figure This! Math Challenges for FamiliesCreated for students in grades 6 to 8, the site offers math challenges that focus on everyday life, such as how fast your heart beats, what shape container holds the most popcorn, and how much of you shows in a small wall mirror.

Word Problems for Kids
A wide range of carefully selected problems! Organized by grade level from 5 through 12, each problem links to a helpful hint and to the answer; the more difficult problems offer complete solutions.

Problems with a Point
Here you can search for word problems by topic, lesson time, required mathematical background, and problem-solving strategy. Take the time to do the short guided tours of the site, and then look at favorite problems selected by teachers — a good set of problems at the middle school level.

Fermi Questions
Fermi questions emphasize estimation, numerical reasoning, communicating in mathematics, and questioning skills. Students often believe that word problems have one exact answer and that the answer is derived in a unique manner. Fermi questions encourage multiple approaches, emphasize process rather than the answer, and promote non-traditional problem solving strategies.

NAEP Questions
Over 2000 questions archived.  Online tools allow you to search the collection by content area, grade level, and difficulty. The site also shows what students at each achievement level are likely to know and how NAEP questions are scored.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/08/2011.

Word Problems

Problem solving, one of the NCTM Process Standards, is critical to learning mathematics. Students may feel confident with computation, measurement, and statistics, but they can feel completely lost when asked to apply those skills to a word problem. How to start? What to do next? This page offers an introduction to problem-solving strategies, followed by a treasure trove of word problems at the middle school level.

Figure This! Math Challenges for Families
Created for students in grades 6 to 8, the site offers math challenges that focus on everyday life, such as how fast your heart beats, what shape container holds the most popcorn, and how much of you shows in a small wall mirror.

Word Problems for Kids
A wide range of carefully selected problems! Organized by grade level from 5 through 12, each problem links to a helpful hint and to the answer; the more difficult problems offer complete solutions.

Problems with a Point
Here you can search for word problems by topic, lesson time, required mathematical background, and problem-solving strategy. Take the time to do the short guided tours of the site, and then look at favorite problems selected by teachers—a great set of problems at the middle school level.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 10/25/2011.