Learning to love math in the elementary years

Editor’s note: Mechanicsburg has a history of mathematical proficiency. Named after the 19th century settlement of mechanics working at the local grist (grain) and sawmill, the town grew on its mathematical understanding of sizing and sorting the lumber and calculating the dimensions, weights and measures of the grain. Even today, one class at Dohron Wilson Elementary (DWE) in Mechanicsburg is continuing this legacy by demonstrating its proficiency in all areas of math. Teacher Tami Rockenbaugh outlines how she has developed a love of math in her fourth-grade class.


Math has a wide-spread reputation for being something all students hate. It’s not uncommon to hear “do we have to do math today” or “math is boring.” Research analyzing the cause of this negative feeling has revealed several underlying reasons. With other subjects such as English Language or the Arts there is less of a “right” or “wrong” answer; children can apply their own level of understanding. Other reasons for this dislike of math include questions being too abstract, irrelevant and difficult to relate to any real-life application. It’s not difficult to agree with many research programs which show that students learn math best when they work on problems they enjoy, rather than exercises and drills they fear.

At DWE we use the common core state standard. Our district subscribed to an online math resource, but the children just didn’t engage with it. They saw it as a chore to complete the activities and didn’t understand why they had to do the work.

Real life application

To address these issues, I always try to link the skill we’re learning to a real-life application. Why do they need to know how to add and subtract or understand place value? Rather than give them a page of meaningless sums, we focus on fun activities that are applied to daily situations.

While we all know that knowledge of math facts is important, in my view, the best way for students to learn math facts is by using them regularly and developing their understanding of numerical relations and how they apply to our everyday lives.

To move away from the paper and pencil math drills and testing, I wanted to find a fun online games-based resource so they could practice each skill regularly and develop a deep understanding. Eventually on Google I found a math resource, SplashLearn, that was free of charge and full of fun, colorful and effective activities aligned to our IEP goals.

Seeing the children carry out math challenges online that apply to every-day life is giving them so much more meaning and pleasure with their accomplishments.

Fun and colorful

One challenge of teaching math was addressed straight away. The children all love the activities and proactively ask if they can go online to practice. Even if they’ve mastered the skill they want to go back and complete more of the challenges. I know that the more they practice, the stronger their foundation of learning so it’s obviously something I encourage.

Making it easy for the teacher

The old resource we used was also time consuming for me and my learning support teacher to understand where each child was on their learning pathway and therefore difficult for us to be able to assign appropriate activities.

Matching each child’s level of development

Each day we may start by focusing on a specific math skill unit. Once we’ve been through the lesson, I assign them all a couple of online learning activities. As they are not lengthy assessments they can easily be tied into each child’s spiral review. It covers all operations, and I can tie it into every standard that I am teaching!

Because they are quick and fun activities, within just a few minutes I can see straight away which kids are in the ‘green’ meaning they are getting the questions right, and those that are showing ‘red’, signifying that they need more support. It’s a quick indication of what kids have mastered versus what they are still struggling to learn. They like seeing that green bar rise, but equally if it’s red they know that they probably need to ask for help. I can then quickly assign more games to each child knowing that these are at the right level of complexity for their stage of development. By working on activities that are aligned to their personal level of development they are experiencing mathematical success and learning to love math. The additional beauty of the program is that all the children are completing the activities without knowing who is working at which level.

Just this morning, we were comparing fractions. The kids went online to do two or three activities and I could see straight away that I had 16 of the 20 students in the green who had mastered the skill with four students in the red that needed more help. While the first group can move on to do more consolidation activities at a similar or slightly higher level, I have time to sit with the group who need more guidance.

My students can login to the math activities multiple times during the week. Assigning targeted practice “playables” gives them an opportunity to practice recently learned skills.

One skill at a time

While I don’t believe in focusing on one math skill through rote learning, I do like to practice one skill at a time. It’s therefore important to have activities that aren’t cluttered with other skills. By focusing on one skill, I can understand their grasp of that rather than confusing it by introducing other skills. For example, if we’re practicing multiplication, I don’t want questions that bring in place value. Wider, multi skill activities is something I like to introduce after they have achieved complete mastery.

The other teachers in the school are noticing how driven my class is to want to spend more time on math; something you don’t expect to see in an elementary classroom. By giving the students real-life related questions at a level that matches where they are on their learning pathway is resulting in them learning to love math; something that is having an impact on their education and will inevitably have an equal impact on their future years.


A student learns math the fun way.
https://www.urbanacitizen.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/36/2022/05/web1_student.jpgA student learns math the fun way. Submitted photo

By Tami Rockenbaugh

Contributing writer

Article submitted on behalf of Mechanicsburg teacher Tami Rockenbaugh via Mango Marketing.

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