This module should help you reinforce math lessons in the classrooms where you work. We’ve also included in it some bits and pieces to kindle your interest in the beauty and power of math! Of course, you might wonder what all of this has to do with you.
As a paraprofessional, you’re not expected to know all the intricate details of the math or how to teach math. But there are several things you can do to supplement the teacher’s instruction in ways that will improve the quality of learning for students.
Math, as noted throughout the module, is more about thinking than about facts. Adults helping students learn—especially teachers and paraprofessionals—should work hard to show them that math is interesting. Not with tricks, but by engaging with them the powerful ideas in math: like zero and equality. Or how math is involved with grocery shopping, home projects, money saving, and many other areas of our lives.
Throughout our life with math, the development of “number sense” helps all of us learn more math and do more with math. Number sense involves being good with taking numbers apart and putting them back together in different, more useful or more interesting, ways. And one does this not only with numbers, but also with variables, and also with the elements of geometry. Number sense is a kind of engineering, or improvisation, but done with numbers. Number sense is a passport to a new world.
Number sense is also essential for problem-solving in math. The module explained a four-step procedure for solving math problems. In the end, of course, a student (and teacher or parapro) might “get” the “right” answer, but thinking things through is far, far more important. Facts are very good to know: but thinking, not endless drill is the method for really knowing and using the facts, and for discovering and exploring an exciting world of facts and ideas. Remember that problem-solving is not about getting the right answer! It’s a logical process of thinking with numbers.
The module also provided a range of resources for getting started on helping students with math: information about technology, textbooks, the Common Core, and graphing. It explained how to ask helpful questions, even if you don’t know the answers yourself.
Although it may all seem a bit overwhelming right now, think of these resources as tools in your own toolkit. When you encounter frustrations in helping students learn math—for instance if they are not understanding a concept, they feel the math is useless, or they feel anxious about math—revisit your own toolkit and ask yourself if there is anything in there that might help address the problem.
In the end, students learn what interests them, and they learn best what interests them most. And math is very, very interesting. Part of teaching math is to open this new world of interest to students. And it’s the ideas in math that make up this new world. Students should like math for what it is. You can see that this is not easy work. But it is very good work—in fact, excellent work.