Third Grade Math Confidence

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My third grade students have been working on rounding and estimating this week.  It’s been a challenge as these concepts are fairly new to the entire class.  We’ve only been in school for only three weeks but I feel like we’re in stride now.  Kids and teachers both are in a routines and tests are already on the schedule.

Back to rounding and estimating.   So students have been struggling a bit with these two concepts as we head towards using the standard algorithm. With that struggle comes a shake in math confidence.  Students needed to be reminded of our class expectation of “lean into the struggle” many times during the past week.  It’s interesting how a student’s math confidence changes throughout a unit, or even throughout the year.  This third grade class in particular is working on becoming more aware of their math performance compared to what’s expected.  In order to reach that goal, I dug back into my files and found a simple, yet powerful tool that might help students on this awareness math journey.

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Basically, students first read the top row goal. They were then given a die to create an example of the goal.  During this process students circled one of the emoji symbols to indicate their confidence level.  The extremely giddy emoji indicates that they could teach another student how to complete the goal.  The OK smiley means that you’re fairly confident, but feel like you might not be able to answer a similar question in a different context.  The straight line emoji means that you’re confidence is lacking and you might need some extra help.  This paper wasn’t graded and that was communicated to the students.

Regardless of the emoji that is circled, students are required to attempt each goal.  Some students were very elaborate with explaining their thinking, while others tried to make their answer as concise as possible.  After completing this students submitted their work to an online portfolio system so parents can also observe progress that’s been made.  So far it’s been a success.  I’d like to use this simple tool for the rest of the first unit and possibly the next.  It takes time, but as usual in education, the teacher has to decide whether it’s worth that time or not.  In my case, the student reflection has meaning and it’s directly tied to the goals of the class.  I’m looking forward to seeing how these responses change over time. Feel free to click here for a copy of the sheet if you’d like one.

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Building Math Confidence in Elementary School

Image by:  DigitalArt 


 I’ve found that math confidence often starts at a young age and develops over time.  Starting on a positive note can instill in students an appreciation for math.  Encouraging students to perceive and experience math in a positive light is important.  Elementary students typically experience math through a variety of hands-on experiences/manipulatives (base-ten blocks, geometric solids, counters, etc…) and then eventually progresses to the abstract.  The more time spent using engaging manipulatives often builds confidence, enabling the students to transfer their math understanding to abstract problems.  Building a solid mathematical foundation at the elementary level can lead to an enriching and encouraging math experience in the upper grades.  If you teach a form of math at the elementary level this concept shouldn’t be unfamiliar.  Most math in the K-5 curriculum is unveiled in a specific instructional order, as federal/state benchmarks indicate.  Publishers may suggest that math is linear, although many experts in the field disagree.   I assume that most teachers agree with a concrete/manipulative (visual representation)  –>  abstract (print) type of instruction model.

I’d like to recommend an edit in this process.  Not necessarily a change, but an addition.  Before moving straight onto the abstract, teachers should encourage students to reflect on their learning experience using manipulatives to solve math problems.  When given an opportunity to reflect on their learning, students often begin to become more responsible for their own learning.  Utilizing self-reflection math journals also allows students opportunities to connect their effort and achievement.  It may also give the teacher insight in how a particular student understands a specific concept and plan for formative assessments.  I’m not suggesting that the transfer from manipulatives to abstract should occur during the same day.  Giving ample time for math connections to fuse is important and will build a solid mathematical foundation.  I’ve found that the more engaged students are in their own learning the more opportunities that they will have to retain and apply their mathematical knowledge.  I believe the process below assists in building math confidence which will enable students to become more responsible for their own learning.  I have provided two flow charts below that may be helpful in explaining this process.

Building Math Confidence
Building Math Confidence