You for Youth logo
Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers


From simple addition and subtraction to algebra and geometry, math skills are central to students' success, both in school and in the world beyond the classroom. The afterschool environment is ideal for providing activities that bring these math concepts to life.

Embedding Math Content in Afterschool

How can afterschool programs bring math to life? Small-group and hands-on activities that are the hallmark of many afterschool programs also lend themselves to teaching and learning math concepts. For example, cooking activities can boost students' understanding of measurement, treasure hunts and mapping extend geometry skills, and activities using predictions can build students' sense of data and probability.

The practices and sample lessons in this site are built on youth development principles and research on effective mathematics instruction. This combined approach provides specific guidance for embedding mathematics into fun and engaging afterschool activities. At their core, these materials are designed to illustrate techniques and activities that capitalize on powerful student thinking. They are designed to leverage student curiosity to make mathematics problem solving in afterschool both fun and relevant.

Three key ideas are central to ensuring that each practice reveals important mathematics content, processes, and concepts: 1) Encourage problem solving; 2) develop and support math talk; and 3) emphasize working together. These key ideas are transformed into specific guidance within each of the practices and sample lessons.

Key Ideas for Supporting Mathematics Learning

Key Idea #1: Encourage Problem Solving

Problem solving involves engaging students and helping them use what they know about math facts, skills, and strategies to figure out the solution to a given problem. Research indicates that good problem solving is fostered by problems that are interesting to students and that encourage them to ask questions and use their critical thinking skills. Problem solving is enhanced when students discuss a problem together and when instructors use guiding questions that encourage them to discover a strategy or solution on their own. Afterschool activities lend themselves to problem solving because math learning can be incorporated into fun, hands-on activities that students already enjoy, and ultimately increase their enthusiasm for learning math.

Key Idea #2: Develop and Support Math Talk

When students talk about math, they are actively engaged in the learning process. Math talk helps them to clarify their thinking, construct their own meaning, analyze and interpret mathematical ideas, develop reasoning and reflective skills, make connections to what they already know, become aware of areas in which they need further clarification or explanation, and stimulate interest and curiosity. Students engaged in math talk might put ideas into their own words, explain their reasoning, present methods for finding solutions, or ask questions to clarify meaning.

Afterschool programs can increase mathematics achievement by combining social and academic enrichment. By communicating mathematically with others, students learn how to pose questions and develop respect for different ideas and ways of approaching problems. Encouraging and supporting mathematical communication also helps afterschool instructors monitor students' learning, identify misconceptions, and provide useful feedback.

Key Idea #3: Emphasize Working Together

Small-group work is a powerful way to support problem solving and math learning. When students are seated in groups of two, three, or four they are encouraged to collaborate; they can face each other when they talk and see each other's work. Having students work together ensures that they all contribute and participate in the small-group tasks. The role of the instructor is to facilitate learning, ask good questions, guide thinking around strategies, and help students understand that there is more than one way to approach a math problem.

Afterschool programs can increase student achievement and the desire to learn by combining social and academic enrichment. When students work together to discuss concepts, compare ideas, justify methods, and articulate thinking, they become motivated to learn mathematics. Research indicates that working together to solve problems often supports higher levels of performance than working independently.


We encourage you to consider math standards as a resource and inspiration for your lesson planning. These standards are not focused specifically on the afterschool setting, but they do offer ideas and context that can support afterschool planning. To find your state's standards for mathematics, go to your state's department of education website.