There’s a lot of building going on around here, and it’s not just outside. Take a peek into The Lexington School’s fourth grade math classrooms and see how they are building meaning and purpose in math.

When she was in fourth grade, teacher Emily Eichenbaum struggled in math. “It just wasn’t connecting for me. I felt dumb,” she says as she multitasks and uploads student videos. “So in high school,” she continues, “math clicked for me. I could see how you could teach it in a lot of different ways and how engaging it could be.” As Emily trained to be a teacher, she gravitated towards teaching math. “I want my students’ experiences with math to be very different than mine were at the same age. I try to make everything a game or a real world activity to help the kids connect with math and give them real purpose. I try to make it personal and make it have meaning for them.”

How does she do it? Here are a few ways:

She integrates technology. Seesaw is a digital platform that encourages student engagement. Emily adds supplemental lessons, prompts, and video tutorials for tricky concepts that may need a few more rewinds. Students can interact with each other to help solve problems. They can blog, and they can make videos explaining how they solve problems.

She makes it real. Connecting the real world to math for kids gives them context and brings meaning to the numbers. Most recent is a project “Dream Trip” where students planned every aspect of a spectacular trip they would like to take. They researched plane tickets, hotels, excursions, and food, and they had to add, divide, multiply, and put it all together into a video proposal they presented to their peers.

She takes things up a notch. Teaching easier concepts can lose kids who are ready to think more deeply. To maintain engagement, Emily adds challenge and learning layers through creative games and projects. “When we studied measurement at the start of the year, it was a review for most of my kids, so to take it up a notch, we built catapults and used them in a measurements game.”

She keeps it active. “Word problems can be a little dry,” she says. “So I generate ‘golden tickets’ with word problems and hide them all over my room.” At the beginning of each class, she allows a minute for a quick search, and if they find one, they solve it as a class. “It makes it fun and gets them excited about coming to math class to solve another mystery.”

She covers all the bases. Mental Math warm-ups are every day, before every lesson, and twice a week, the students fire away on fact drills like “Multiplication Mania,” assuring their quick math skills are at the ready. When the facts are at the front of their minds, even the toughest math concepts are easier. Emily wants her students to think mathematically, so these basic solutions will set them up for deeper thinking on down the road.

Proving meaning and purpose in math for all students is the goal. Teaching strong foundational math skills while engaging students in a creative understanding of how those skills translate into real world math is the practice. Building a lifelong love of learning is the reality. That’s just how fourth grade does it.

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