Whether you are a veteran teacher or a volunteer, you can enhance math learning in afterschool by engaging students in creative problem solving and lively discussions. Effective math teaching encourages students to think for themselves, work together, and use what they know about math to problem solve.
Use the following four teaching strategies to maximize math learning in afterschool activities:
- Use a Planning Worksheet. Talk to the school-day teacher to find out what math skills and concepts students are learning, and how to extend that learning by developing afterschool activities that engage students in those skill areas. A Planning Worksheet (PDF) can show you how.
Encourage Students to Communicate About Math
- Provide students with opportunities to hear others explain their thinking. Intentionally guide conversations that encourage students to listen and consider the thinking of their peers. When this is done well, students hear ideas that stimulate their own thinking. Environments in which students listen carefully to the explanations of others are indicated by:
- Instructors who model listening by asking students to clarify or repeat their thinking for others to hear
- Students who ask follow-up questions such as, How did you think of that? or Where did you get that idea?
- Instructors who support reflection and thinking by providing adequate "think time" before taking answers from raised hands
- Model effective communication. Model the type of communication you want students to use. If an instructor accepts a simple answer and does not require students to detail their thinking, students will accept simple, unsupported answers from each other. Likewise, rather than quickly moving on from students who offer incorrect answers, ask questions that help students think through their answer, whether it makes sense, and the mathematical steps involved.
- Create an environment in which students feel free to express their ideas. It often helps to establish, agree upon, and rehearse group norms for working together and communicating effectively. Students need to feel safe to ask questions and to experiment with ideas.
- Listen to understand first, and to respond second.
- Respect time.
- Agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
- Influence and be willing to be influenced.
- Carry your load.
- Take care of yourself.
Create Engaging and Challenging Math Activities
- Foster understanding. Give students opportunities to build and justify their own meaning in math through exploring, investigating, estimating, questioning, predicting, and testing their ideas.
- Use compelling, problematic math situations. Build activities around compelling, problematic situations that interest students (sharing fairly, voting and analyzing the results, figuring out something about themselves, estimating/guessing and then finding the actual answer). Try to be intentional about when students should work together. Students will work best together on tasks that would be difficult for them to complete alone.
- Choose appropriately challenging tasks. Talk to the school-day teacher to find out what concepts and skills students are learning, what standards students need to meet, and what kind of fun, afterschool activities can extend their learning.
- Engage students in small-group work. Allow students to work together in small groups, making sure that the objectives and procedures are clear. Working in groups encourages students to use their peers as resources as they work through problems. This gives the instructor time to circulate and check on student progress.
- Make sure that all afterschool students have access to activities. Allow students their own entry point into the content. Appropriately challenging content for all students includes entry points for students who are at-risk, remedial, and learning-disabled. Challenge students to go just beyond their current capacity, but not out of reach. Be mindful of students with physical considerations. Consider reviewing regular afterschool attendees' progress in the school-day mathematics class through conversations with the school-day teacher.
Use Good Questioning and Feedback Strategies
- Be mindful of the quality and timing of questions. When you find yourself giving students answers or immediate links to next steps, you are often doing more "telling" and "rescuing" than you are scaffolding understanding. Instead, ask questions that help students discover answers and next steps themselves, encouraging them to think through the problem.
- Distinguish between whole-group and individualized questions. Alternate between whole-group and more individualized questions. It is important for individual students and small groups to check in with the whole group from time to time. You are essentially allowing students to share their thinking, compare, justify, and explain in different ways as often as possible.
- Provide consistent and instructive feedback. Encourage students to continue working on a task until they succeed and understand it. Provide feedback along the way, using learning goals to measures students' progress (as opposed to comparing students' work). Allow students to monitor their own progress. Listen to and question students about their thinking.