Modeling to Teach Math

Common Core State Standards: 
Model with Mathematics
Instructional Strategies: 

As a mathematics coach at an elementary school, I met with teachers at the end of last year to set professional development goals for this year. They all agreed, “Let’s focus on modeling.”  Striving to meet the needs of their students in relation to the Common Core Standards, they were concerned about how to help students apply the math they know to problems that may come up in everyday life. They saw that by focusing on a key practice, modeling, they could create teaching and learning opportunities that went beyond the typical workbook exercises.

To meet the teachers’ stated need, I took the time to reflect on which coaching strategies I could repeat this year based on what worked well in the past. How interesting; I realized that the coaching sessions that worked best involved my modeling whole class and small group techniques and then co-teaching with the classroom teacher. 

Wanting to continue modeling for teachers so that they could, in turn, improve their modeling practices with students, I started to do a little research. One excellent resource I found was titled, “3 Keys to Modeling with Mathematics in the K-8 Classroom,” written by Ben Curran.

Below I’ve summarized his three excellent suggestions.

1. Give it context. When teaching a math concept, keep in mind various ways in which to apply that concept in real life. Developing skills and fluency is important, but teachers need to find ways to put math into context to allow their students to understand the concept on a deeper level. Focus on problems with real world situations and less time with repetitive problems. The type of problem will vary depending on the age of the students. A second grade problem might involve writing a simple addition equation to describe the number of counters on the table (“We’ve counted 4 blue counters and 6 red counters; how many are there altogether?”)

2. Go deeper. Focus on ways to create problems with multiple steps and more than one question so that students can analyze the concept and understand it from different perspectives. Additional questions should add depth and rigor, as they require students to demonstrate an understanding of various skills. (“How many blue counters do we need to add in order to have doubles?” “What would the total number of counters be?” “How many counters do we need to take away in order to have a total of eight?” “How many groups of 2 can we make with the counters on the table?”)

3. Tap into resources. If we focus primarily on a workbook page to teach concepts we aren’t taking into account that students learn in different ways and possess multiple intelligences that should be tapped into. Thanks to advances in technology there are many wonderful online resources for teaching modeling with mathematics. Ben Curran mentions the Tech Savvy Educator , a site which contains videos that encourage students to make math and real world connections, and Teaching Channel, a teacher resource for incorporating modeling into mathematics lessons. One example is a primary grade real world counting cardinality lesson.

Check out PowerUp What Works ( to explore the Instructional Strategy Guide focusing on Modeling. There you will find an introductory presentation on modeling, a Lesson in Action, some Quick View Technology videos, and suggestions for integrating technology tools into instruction.

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