Helping Elementary Students Cultivate a Strong Math Community - IM CERTIFIED® BLOG (2023)

by LaToya Byrd and Jenna Laib

School looks different this year. It’s easy to focus on the changes that will need to be made—the new practices, the new routines, the new technologies—but we must first focus on our central beliefs about teaching and learning, and use those beliefs to determine what’s important. It is essential to build a strong classroom community.

What does it look like?

This community should strive to be one where learners know, use, and enjoy mathematics. How do you envision this math class? And how does that relate to your own mathematical experiences?

Think back to your time as an elementary school student. How would you have defined “mathematics”? How did you feel about math class? There’s no monolithic experience for teachers. When we ask this at professional development, we have heard teachers say things like:

Math was always about getting the right answer. No collaboration or sharing out our thoughts. Now that I am a classroom teacher, I ensure students get think time and encourage group work. We all have something to learn from each other. I also don’t want my students to think I hold all of the answers. We are a team.

I thought I was a good math student and smart, because that’s what I was told. I knew my math facts and I completed assignments fast. That stopped when I was sitting in an Algebra I class with no reasoning skills. I didn’t know what to do or how to ask for help.

Math was fun! It was a different game every game. We had to work together to solve math mysteries. My teacher kept everyone engaged so we learned without knowing we were learning.

The kind of community we want to create rarely happens by accident. As educators, we can make deliberate choices that support and sustain our math communities. To support this, the authors of IM K–5 Math (currently in beta pilot across the US) embedded plans to build community into the first two weeks of lessons in the curriculum. This work then continues and is regularly reinforced throughout the school year.

At the Heart of Building a Math Community

Students need to feel ownership and agency within the math community. IM K–5 Math builds in opportunities for students to explore what it means to learn math by doing math, identify the associated actions, and relate the actions of doing math to norms that support that work.

There are two important considerations when planning the student experiences used to establish norms:

  1. The experiences should be reflective of how learning math will look, sound, and feel all year.
  2. The experiences should be connected to convey the message that learning math is a coherent journey.

Understanding What It Means to Learn Math by Doing Math

The work on community in IM K–5 Math is not a detour; it fits seamlessly into the curriculum. Lessons provide students opportunities to build on their prior understandings and experiences, to share their thinking, and to interact with the thinking of others. They begin with an invitational warm up, like the one below.

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After engaging in authentic and meaningful mathematical ways, students are asked to reflect on what it felt like, looked like, and sounded like. The teacher records this in a T-chart titled “Mathematical Community,” like the one below. For the first 3 days, the focus is on the left side of the chart: Doing Math.

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What might this look like this year?

Students mathematize. This might be in a classroom, or at home, or anywhere in between, but first things first: students must do some math!

Afterwards, students contribute to this chart in person or virtually. In the virtual environment, students might share out during a synchronous session while the teacher records responses on a slide, doc, or even paper or chart paper that the teacher is able to show on the camera. Students could also contribute ideas asynchronously that the teacher then consolidates into one chart.

Here is an example from a IM K–5 Math alpha pilot classroom after the first day.

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Identifying Actions Associated with Doing Math

The work continues the next day. After the second lesson of the unit, which again follows the same design structure as all IM K–12 Math curricula, students are asked to review the chart, and to revise or add to it based on their experience during the second lesson. The process continues on day 3, as students are prompted to think about the actions associated with doing math. What specifically did students and teachers do?

For classes that are meeting in person, the T-chart can be hung up in the room for students to review. The teacher should direct students to it before the lesson. After the lesson synthesis, the teacher may again direct students to review the chart, but this time to consider any revisions or additions.
The teacher may make similar moves in a virtual setting. The teacher can show the slide with the chart at the start of the lesson, and lead a brief reflection. The teacher cues the class to revisit the chart to close the lesson, as well.

Affirming and Reaffirming Norms

After the class has spent a few days fleshing out the Doing Math side of the T-chart, it is time to discuss explicit norms that make these actions possible. For example, “it may help us share our ideas as a whole class if we have the norm ‘listen as others share their ideas.’” It helps to spotlight different norms, and to pause the class while working to call attention to them.

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For classes that are held in person, it is helpful to continue to reference the physical recording of the T-Chart. For virtual classes, the teacher can make the decision to show the entire record of the T-chart, or just the one norm in focus that day.

By week two, the teacher can start the class with a quick refresher of the agreed upon norms, and then end the class by asking students to share what norms they experienced during that class session. Or the teacher may ask students, “which one of the norms did you feel was most important in your work today, and why?” This could be done as a journaling exercise, or, e.g. in a synchronous setting, a class or small group discussion.

This work is not completed in September. Classes should revisit the T-chart throughout the year, to reflect on the state of collaboration and discourse, and recommit to class norms.

Impact on Classroom Community

Co-crafting explicit norms alongside students does more than create shared ownership and a productive atmosphere. This process is designed to promote equitable teaching practices, and impact teacher beliefs.

Co-crafting norms honors student voices. It centers student ideas, and positions teachers as learners, too. In a recent professional learning session with IM K–5 Math beta pilot teachers, one educator stated that they “[couldn’t] think of a math training that talked about giving a voice to marginalized students the way [IM] did.” Other teachers noted that crafting norms builds community, and that this work echoes how lessons emphasize community, from the invitational warm up to the lesson synthesis.

Co-crafting norms with students also asks a teacher to examine their own beliefs about math learning and teaching. “IM’s curriculum is different,” a teacher shared. “Different in a good way. Being forced to think about my beliefs and positioning can only make me a better teacher. I think we call that humanizing math.”


There have been two IM featured blog posts about co-crafting norms with students: (1) Building a Mathematical Classroom Community; and (2) Co-Creating Classroom Norms with Students. The first post offers a downloadable resource that is similar to what is written into IM K–5 Math. Educators participating in the beta pilot benefit from having this built into their lesson plans, but it would be easy enough to incorporate into any lesson!

Next Steps

If you use this process, we would love to see your students’ ideas and hear about your experience. You can share your pictures, blog post links, and reflections in the comments section below, or on Twitter using our #LearnWithIM hashtag and tagging @IllustrateMath!

Get more support with IM’s collection of distance learning resources. This includes curriculum adaption packs for the 2020–21 school year that incorporate this work.

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LaToya Byrd

Dr. LaToya Byrd began her career in education as a middle school math teacher in Decatur, GA. Currently, she is a District Academic Coach specializing in mathematics at the elementary level. Through coaching, PLCs, and district professional learning, she supports educators who are “doing” mathematics. She has had the pleasure of working with the Georgia Department of Education, reviewing state standards, test development, and data review. Dr. Byrd believes that culturally responsive teaching combined with fun, number sense, and conceptual understandings leads to learning for all students. In her free time, she loves to color, play sudoku, travel, and spend time with her son and husband.

Helping Elementary Students Cultivate a Strong Math Community - IM CERTIFIED® BLOG (9)

Jenna Laib

Jenna Laib is currently a math specialist at the Driscoll School (K–8) in Brookline, MA. Students inspire her. She also enjoys working with pre-service and in-service teachers to develop content knowledge, pedagogical strategies, and infinite curiosity for mathematical thinking and learning. She blogswww.jennalaib.wordpress.comas a way to process her experiences in the classroom. Jenna is the 2016 recipient of the Harry S. Levitan Prize for Educational Leadership from Brandeis University. Twitter:@jennalaib

  • Jenna Laib


    Helping Elementary Students Cultivate a Strong Math Community


How can you promote a mathematical community of learners? ›

Step 1: Build A Mathematical Community of Learners
  1. Look for more than one way to solve the problem.
  2. Meet and share ideas with other mathematicians.
  3. Give feedback to others to improve and expand ideas.
  4. Look for new ideas in other people's thinking.
  5. Listen to other ideas and work hard to make sense of them.

How do you make math relevant for elementary students? ›

Stop Being Irrational: How to Make Math Relevant
  1. Treat math as a puzzle to be solved.
  2. Provide room for students to explain concepts and processes to each other.
  3. Give students real work with errors.
  4. Explain that math is more than just solving for a number: it's about problem-solving skills in general.
Mar 1, 2022

How do you bring community into the classroom? ›

5 Ways to Involve the Community in Your Classroom
  1. Bring the museum to your students. ...
  2. Invite local professionals to problem-solve with your students. ...
  3. Have students interview locals and present to the community. ...
  4. Invite a professional to lead a workshop. ...
  5. Involve your students in a local non-profit's PR campaigns.

What makes a good math curriculum for elementary school? ›

An elementary math curriculum should teach much more than the “how to” of simple arithmetic. Elementary math programs should be deep and broad and standards-based. They should not only teach students the skills they need, but should also make sure they understand how they arrived at the correct solution.

How do you promote diversity in a math classroom? ›

5 Practical Steps for Immediate Impact in your Math Classroom
  1. 1.) Learn about from where your students are coming. ...
  2. 2.) Know your students. ...
  3. 3.) Use inclusive instructional strategies every day to allow every student to participate. ...
  4. 4.) Develop group guidelines. ...
  5. 5.) Reflect on your practice through a DEI lens.
Jan 27, 2022

How do you create a math environment? ›

How to Promote a Math Rich Environment at Home
  1. Play with building blocks.
  2. Point out patterns.
  3. Count numbers out loud.
  4. Play with puzzles.
  5. Draw and talk about shapes.
  6. Create maths problems in everyday conversation.
  7. Use a measuring tape.
  8. Play board games.
Dec 14, 2022

What are math enrichment activities for elementary students? ›

Incorporate movement into math facts memorization. Shout math facts while tossing beanbags from hand to hand or while tossing a beach ball to another person. Many games, such as hopscotch, can be modified to include math concepts. Apply math lessons to real world experiences such as when learning fractions bake a cake.

What is culturally responsive elementary math lesson? ›

What Is Culturally Responsive Math Teaching? Instruction that supports the development of critical thinking skills. Students feel empowered and share their math reasoning with others. The learning environment is inclusive and focused on mathematical sense-making.

What are 5 ways to encourage community in the classroom? ›

5 Strategies for Building Community in the Classroom
  • Hold Weekly Class Meetings. A simple but effective way to build classroom community is to hold meetings with your class once a week. ...
  • Focus on Gratitude. ...
  • Work Together Toward a Shared Goal. ...
  • Give Daily Shout-Outs or Compliments. ...
  • Let Students Have a Voice.
Jan 11, 2020

How do you create a positive community in the classroom? ›

Seven Strategies for Building Positive Classrooms
  1. Make Learning Relevant.
  2. Create a Classroom Code of Conduct.
  3. Teach Positive Actions.
  4. Instill Intrinsic Motivation.
  5. Reinforce Positive Behaviors.
  6. Engage Positive Role Models.
  7. Always Be Positive.

What actions should students and staff take to build a stronger student community? ›

12 Ways To Build Strong Classroom Community
  • Use note cards to share fun facts. WeAreTeachers. ...
  • Make kindness chains. ...
  • Talk about filling buckets. ...
  • Work together toward a reward. ...
  • Play the gratitude game. ...
  • Get in a circle and share compliments. ...
  • Pair students up to make a Venn diagram. ...
  • Give a quick shout out.
Jun 6, 2019

What does a successful math classroom look like? ›

In an effective mathematics classroom, an observer should find that the teacher is (Protheroe, 2007): Demonstrating acceptance of students' divergent ideas. The teacher challenges students to think deeply about the problems they are solving, reaching beyond the solutions and algorithms required to solve the problem.

What does strong math instruction look like? ›

Instruction should focus on the relationship between such processes as addition and multiplication, and subtrac- tion and division. Students should be introduced to multiplicative reasoning, equivalence, and a vari- ety of methods for computation.

Why is math intervention important in elementary school? ›

What Are Mathematics Intervention Classes? The main goal of intervention classes is to help students become more successful mathematics learners by building their understanding of essential content as well as their motivation and confidence.

How do you promote diversity and inclusion in a community? ›

See below for six ways you can encourage inclusivity, according to our Love Has No Labels campaign, which celebrates diversity and promotes acceptance of everyone.
  2. BE AN ALLY. ...
Nov 1, 2018

What is an inclusive math classroom? ›

An inclusive classroom is in this paper defined as a classroom that is not grouped by ability but. instead as a classroom in which students struggling with mathematics as well as students in need of. more challenges in mathematics are taught working with similar tasks and the same mathematical. content.

What activities support children's emergent mathematical development? ›

Everyday activities like counting, looking at shapes, and talking about sizes can help children develop early numeracy and maths skills. You can build children's numeracy and maths skills through play. Try singing number songs and sorting toys together.

What are the 5 aspects of an inviting mathematics classroom? ›

This book introduces five principles that will help mathematics teachers make fundamental changes in the culture of learning in their classrooms: Conjecture, Collaboration, Communication, Chaos, and Celebration.

How would you provide mathematics rich environment in your classroom? ›

Below are a few creative and fun ideas you can include in the classroom environment to help strengthen your young students math skills.
  1. Incorporate music and songs into your math routine. ...
  2. Create a math center. ...
  3. Encourage your young students to play mathematically on their own. ...
  4. Let them create their own math art.
Sep 26, 2017

What is the most effective strategy in teaching mathematics? ›

Repetition. A simple strategy teachers can use to improve math skills is repetition. By repeating and reviewing previous formulas, lessons, and information, students are better able to comprehend concepts at a faster rate.

What are the three 3 approaches teachers use in teaching elementary mathematics? ›

We firstly discuss three approaches that inform the teaching of mathematics in the primary school and which may be taken singly or in conjunction into organising the curriculum: the topics approach, the process approach, and the conceptual fields approach.

What are the 5 pedagogical approaches in math? ›

The five major approaches are Constructivist, Collaborative, Integrative, Reflective and Inquiry Based Learning ( 2C-2I-1R ). “…

What activities promote math learning? ›

Simple board and card games are a good way to connect mathematics and SEL for young children, says Young. Games help children identify and learn about patterns, number sense and spatial sense, but they also promote self-regulation, turn-taking, fair play, and learning from mistakes.

What activities promote maths? ›

35 Active Math Games and Activities for Kids Who Love To Move
  • Throw snowballs inside or out. ...
  • Stack sticks to practice tally marks. ...
  • Fish for numbers. ...
  • Draw and measure shapes on the sidewalk. ...
  • Stomp and smash on a number line. ...
  • Grow fact-family flowers. ...
  • Toss beanbags to learn place value. ...
  • Form paper-plate number bonds.
Sep 7, 2022

How do you make math exciting for kids? ›

8 ways to make math fun
  1. Find math “in the wild” ...
  2. Make a grocery trip for something delicious. ...
  3. Take a road trip. ...
  4. Play math brain games. ...
  5. Get statistical with sports. ...
  6. Embrace video games. ...
  7. Make saving a priority. ...
  8. Follow a recipe.
Sep 28, 2020

How is math related to culture? ›

In mathematics education, ethnomathematics is the study of the relationship between mathematics and culture. Often associated with "cultures without written expression", it may also be defined as "the mathematics which is practised among identifiable cultural groups".

What are culturally responsive strategies? ›

15 Culturally-responsive teaching strategies and examples
  • Learn about your students. ...
  • Interview students. ...
  • Integrate relevant word problems. ...
  • Present new concepts by using student vocabulary. ...
  • Bring in guest speakers. ...
  • Deliver different forms of content through learning stations. ...
  • Gamify lessons. ...
  • Call on each student.
Oct 6, 2021

What is a culturally responsive lesson plan? ›

Matthew Lynch (2011) culturally responsive instruction is, “a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students' unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student's cultural place in the world.” There are several components to a ...

What does a strong classroom community look like? ›

A classroom community consists of a space composed of students—who feel a sense of belonging—coming together with the common goal of learning. Feeling a sense of belonging is critical since students who don't feel connected to their classroom community may not put in the effort to unify with their classmates.

What makes a strong classroom community? ›

Remember that building relationships, setting classroom expectations, and consistently nurturing these expectations throughout the school year is the best way to create, build and maintain a positive classroom environment. It is well worth the time and energy that you put into it!

How do you build a positive community? ›

Positive communities may differ in what they encourage, but overall, ten characteristics tend to make for a successful community.
  1. Common goals. ...
  2. Freedom of expression. ...
  3. Address member concerns with sensitivity. ...
  4. Set clear policies and obligations. ...
  5. Fairness. ...
  6. Celebrate heritage and traditions. ...
  7. Promote interaction among members.
Nov 25, 2016

How do you cultivate positive relationships with your students and create a sense of class community? ›

6 Easy Ways to Build Relationships with Your Students
  1. Spend 1-On-1 Time with a Student. ...
  2. Look for Something to Comment On. ...
  3. Develop an Interest in Their Interests. ...
  4. Share Your Stories. ...
  5. Have a Sense of Humor. ...
  6. Attend Student Events.

How do you hope to engage with the greater community as a student? ›

How to Get Involved in Local Community Projects as a High School Student
  1. Figure Out What You're Interested In. What are you passionate about? ...
  2. Join Clubs or Other Extracurricular Activities. ...
  3. Participate in Class Discussions and Be an Active Learner. ...
  4. Volunteer Your Time to Help Local Community Organizations.
Aug 8, 2019

How do you engage students in community? ›

Community Involvement in Schools: What, Why, and How
  1. Volunteering in schools.
  2. Mentoring students.
  3. Inviting families to school events.
  4. School visits from local professionals.
  5. Workshops with community organizations.
Mar 28, 2022

How do you connect students with the community? ›

5 Ways to Involve the Community in Your Classroom
  1. Bring the museum to your students. ...
  2. Invite local professionals to problem-solve with your students. ...
  3. Have students interview locals and present to the community. ...
  4. Invite a professional to lead a workshop. ...
  5. Involve your students in a local non-profit's PR campaigns.

What are 3 things a successful math student does? ›

Tips for Success as a Mathematics Student
  • Attend class regularly and pay close attention.
  • Review notes the same day after class and make note of things you do not understand so you can clarify them during the next class.
  • Make time to study math every day. ...
  • Do not wait until a test or quiz to study.

What is one thing that will make math class better? ›

Visual aids and picture books. If you've got a classroom full of visual learners, then charts, picture books and other visual aids can help them make sense of new concepts and provide reference points as they work.

How do you promote diversity in math? ›

Use students' interest in contextualized tasks. Expose students to a diverse group of mathematicians. Design assessments and assignments with a variety of response types. Use systematic grading and participation methods.

What is considered strong math skills? ›

The skills include:
  • Critical thinking.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Analytical thinking.
  • Quantitative reasoning.
  • Time management.
  • Constructing Logical Arguments.
  • Abstract Thinking.
  • Data Analysis.
May 17, 2022

What is an example of powerful math? ›

Examples of the power of mathematics

Mathematics makes sure that bridges and buildings stay up. Mathematics allows your GPS to find the shortest route for you in very little time. Mathematics reduces waste when used for inventory control, for distribution networks, for product creation.

How would you describe a strong math student? ›

Mathematically proficient students can

Identify and execute appropriate strategies to solve the problem. Evaluate progress toward the solution and make revisions if necessary. Check for accuracy and reasonableness of work, strategy and solution. Understand and connect strategies used by others to solve problems.

How can we make math more relevant to practical experiences for children? ›

Here are five ways to add math to your child's day.
  1. Bake something together. You can't help but use math when you're baking. ...
  2. Measure, count, and record. ...
  3. Build something together. ...
  4. Plan dinner or a party. ...
  5. Mix in math to your bedtime reading.

How do learners find mathematics relevant in everyday life? ›

Preparing food. Figuring out distance, time and cost for travel. Understanding loans for cars, trucks, homes, schooling or other purposes. Understanding sports (being a player and team statistics)

Why is math important for elementary students? ›

Math forces kids to slow down, analyze a problem, and devise a logical solution. It also encourages them to think outside the box and consider different approaches to a problem. As a result, math can help children develop the essential skills they need to succeed in school and life.

How can I help my elementary students struggle with math? ›

8 Strategies for Struggling Math Students
  1. Teach the 'why' Teaching students the underlying logic behind math formulas and processes is always important. ...
  2. Repeated review. ...
  3. Talk it out. ...
  4. Show, don't tell. ...
  5. Positive reinforcement. ...
  6. Manipulatives. ...
  7. Peer guidance.

How can we help our students to learn more and better mathematics? ›

What the Teachers Recommend
  1. Build confidence. ...
  2. Encourage questioning and make space for curiosity. ...
  3. Emphasize conceptual understanding over procedure. ...
  4. Provide authentic problems that increase students' drive to engage with math. ...
  5. Share positive attitudes about math.
Jul 6, 2018

What teaching strategies that you will employ to produce excellent learners in mathematics? ›

Top 9 math strategies for engaging lessons
  • Explicit instruction. You can't always jump straight into the fun. ...
  • Conceptual understanding. ...
  • Using concepts in Math vocabulary. ...
  • Cooperative learning strategies. ...
  • Meaningful and frequent homework. ...
  • Puzzle pieces math instruction. ...
  • Verbalize math problems. ...
  • Reflection time.
Jul 26, 2021

What activities could help develop and improve children's mathematical skills and competence? ›

Below are a number of activities that are designed to stimulate and encourage children's love of mathematics:
  • NUMBER FACTS. Play 'ping pong' as this will help your child cement their knowledge of number bonds. ...

What are the 5 intervention strategies? ›

Let's take a look at the most commonly used intervention strategies:
  • Behavioural Interventions. ...
  • Collaborative Interventions. ...
  • One-to-One Interventions. ...
  • Classroom-Based Interventions. ...
  • Social, Emotional and Wellbeing Interventions. ...
  • Peer Tutoring. ...
  • Metacognition and Self-Regulation. ...
  • Homework.
Jul 9, 2021

What are some examples of math interventions? ›

Mathematics Interventions: What Strategies Work for Struggling Students?
  • Systematic and explicit instruction.
  • Visual representation of functions and relationships, such as manipulatives, pictures and graphs.
  • Peer-assisted instruction.
  • Ongoing, formative assessment.

What are the 5 math strategies? ›

5 Essential Strategies in Teaching Math
  • Make math a part of the conversation.
  • Make math fun with games.
  • Be proactive.
  • Organize quizzes.
  • Consider evaluating your teaching approach.
Nov 26, 2021


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