Educators Reveal Five Lessons Learned from Teaching Math in 2020

By: | 02/12/2021
Categories: Distance Learning, Instruction

As one of our Extraordinary Educators, Olivia Ruggirello, so aptly put it, “This year [2020] challenged all educators, but it taught us so much.” Amidst a global health crisis, an abrupt shift to remote learning, and a complete re-imagining of how to engage with students and families, teachers have heroically stepped up to the plate, time and time again.

With the arrival of the new year comes the opportunity to reflect, and we here at Curriculum Associates wanted to know:

Educators, What Have You Learned from Teaching Math in 2020?

We hope you find their answers as inspiring and helpful as we did!

Lesson 1: Remaining Flexible and Adaptable Is Key

"Teaching math in 2020 has taught me to be flexible and innovative. I learned new ways for my students to explore math concepts and show what they know by using what they had available at home. I was unable to send my students home with what they needed during the first school closure, so I had my students using manipulatives that were not typically used in the classroom. My students loved this, and it allowed me to bring that kind of thinking back into the classroom when we returned."

Olivia Ruggirello, Grade K Teacher, Johnston Elementary School

The ingenuity and resourcefulness of math educators this year has been astounding! We've seen educators make creative use of at-home manipulatives—from age-appropriate small objects for counting to rulers or tape measures for practicing measurement—on virtual calls. We've also seen educators use breakout rooms on tools like Microsoft Teams to allow students to play interactive Learning Games together as a means of strengthening understanding of mathematical concepts and improving fluency.

Lesson 2: Patience for Both Yourself and Your Students Is Crucial

"I have learned to be patient with my students and patient with myself while engaging in our math curriculum this year. There are many students who were not able to or chose not to be part of remote lessons in the spring, so students are in many places on the math spectrum. Taking the time to incorporate a skill or standard that typically would have been taught the previous year in creative and engaging ways has been a lifesaver in many instances. It makes my students feel better about their learning, and it makes me feel better that I am helping them to be successful in their learning."

Cynthia Chapman, Grade 5 Teacher, Elsie C. Johnson Elementary School

In an ever-changing learning environment, focus on making progress—not perfection—every day, and set reasonable expectations for yourself and your students. Share a weekly planner to keep students and their families on track.

Unfinished learning has been a considerable concern this year. How can educators best address it? Consider using a Diagnostic assessment that generates prerequisite reports, which will support educators in identifying students' prerequisite learning needs ahead of their teaching and provide guidance on how to best integrate this additional instruction into their grade-level scope and sequence for the year.

Lesson 3: Student Engagement—Especially in a Virtual Environment—Is a Top Priority

"2020 has reminded me just how important it is to teach to students' interests. Active student engagement is way more important than any curricula. This past month, my students worked hard to discover mystery pictures (pixel art) of their favorite characters. They solved more problems and engaged in on-topic dialogue more than when we were in person. I simply facilitated while they began to take ownership!"

—Amanda Jane Kipnis, Specialized Academic Instruction Teacher, San Altos Elementary School

Appealing to students’ interests during a confusing and challenging time will help keep them engaged and motivated. What are your students listening to? Watching on TV? Chatting with their friends about? Whether it’s incorporating their favorite cartoon characters in a lesson or simply checking in with them about their day, these personal touches help humanize mathematics and make it more approachable.

Lesson 4: Virtual Math Discourse Is Possible with the Right Tools

"In my virtual classroom, the low-tech strategy of giving students whiteboards so they can build their own understanding of the math content and practice new strategies has been a huge factor in keeping students engaged. My students love to share how they solved a problem with the class, and that discourse between students as they engage with each other is always a highlight of our math lessons."

—Caitlin Robbie, Grade 3 Teacher, Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School

Virtual classrooms don’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) silent ones. Teachers have adapted instructional routines to the virtual environment, customizing their session slides with discourse questions and leveraging the use of nonverbal communication (e.g., chat, hand symbols) and physical tools, like whiteboards, to share strategies and connect with students.

Lesson 5: Celebrate the Successes

"Teaching in 2020 has taught me how to be more flexible, particularly when transitioning between in-person, distance, or hybrid models. My classroom revolves around data-driven small groups, so having to adjust and adapt that dynamic to make sure everyone remained safe while also continuing to deliver rigorous, leveled instruction was one of the biggest challenges and ultimately one of the biggest successes of the school year."

—Kyle Cantrell, Grade 5 Math and Science Teacher, John Pittard Elementary School

We've been amazed at how teachers have pivoted their normal routines to distance or hybrid models while continuing to keep the rigor of their instruction. Despite the challenges of this unprecedented year, it's important to remember the successes of both yourself and your students.


Learn more about the Class of 2021 Extraordinary Educators on our website.

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