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Teaching Math 101: Getting Started

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You've landed on this article because you are new to teaching math or you may want to tutor somebody in math or you wish to help someone better understand math. Either way, this article is written to help put you into the comfort zone when it comes to teaching math. Here is a list of what is important to know about teaching math:

• First of all, it is important to understand the math you are about to teach. You need to have a strong level of understanding or some expertise about the topic or concept you will be teaching or supporting. Whether it's fractions, addition, multiplying polynomials, using the distance formula, quadratic equations, slope of a line or even counting, you still need to understand the concept yourself well first. Key to teaching is knowing that imparting knowledge isn't going to teach the student much. Very little learning happens at the telling stage. Understanding happens when a student knows how and why the procedure or process works.
• Start from where they are. For instance, if a student is needing to add fractions but doesn't have a grasp on what fractions are, it will be difficult to teach the addition of fractions. You will need to diagnose what prior knowledge the student(s) has. You will need to assess the student(s) to find out where they are to determine their readiness for the concept. At this stage, get the student to explain their thinking out loud which will enable you to become comfortable with what their prior knowledge is along with their level of understanding. Determine what it is the student(s) needs to know before you can begin teaching the concept. Always start from where they are, otherwise, there is less chance of permanent learning and a great chance of having gaps in learning.
• Anticipate misunderstandings and be ready for them. Always try to think ahead. Try to determine what the stumbling blocks may be. Ask yourself, what might the student find difficulty with and why?
• Get concrete. By this, I mean be able to show the concept with diagrams, pictures or math manipulatives. Use something tangible that the student can touch whenever it's possible. The more you can show or prove the concept the more apt the students are to learn it. Remember when you went to school and pizza was used to demonstrate that 1/2 is larger than 1/4? Fractions are difficult for students because all of a sudden, the bigger number doesn't necessarily mean bigger anymore. Seeing is believing. There are many concepts in math that pictures, diagrams, and concrete manipulatives help pave the way to understanding.
• Find the connections. Math is always about making connections both at the basic and advanced level. Use probing questions that steer the student toward seeing the connections. As questions like: Is there a pattern? Is there another way of doing this? How do you know? What does this remind you of? What other math have you done that is similar to this? Where have you seen this before?
• Some final thoughts, remember that math should be taught developmentally and that students will require time to practice working on various math concepts. Incorporate technology whenever you can and praise successes. Take small steps and provide lots of positive feedback to ensure that the student maintains an "I can" attitude. Another strategy is help students to take great notes about the math they're learning or doing.

Deb Russell