Math Outside the Textbook

Vera C. Teschow

While teaching “freestyle” did not solve all the problems in my math program, being more directly engaged with math as the teacher and personal developer of each math unit, I definitely had a better idea of what the problems were and how I could intervene to help students with next steps. As a whole, the students also seemed to enjoy the math program much more than classes I had had in previous, more textbook-reliant years.

For teachers thinking about  stretching their mathematical instruction beyond the textbook, I offer the  following considerations:

  • Begin by choosing  ONE  unit  to plan entirely “from  scratch.”
  • Set the textbook  aside for this unit, and gather  together  a few alternate resources  (including the curriculum!). Your teacher-librarian or a board program  resource  consultant, or even  a colleague down  the hall  who’s  already been  experimenting can help  direct  you to a few good resources.
  • Consider which  curriculum expectations need  to be addressed  for this unit  and think  about  how  students  will get there (begin with  the end in mind); for ELLs and students  with  LDs,  develop  a list of necessary  vocabulary to pre-teach.
  • Develop a set of five  or six lesson plans  for the  unit,  including some  that can serve as formative assessment  checkpoints along  the  way.
  • Develop your lessons  in a three-part framework: Minds On  (a warm-up or thinking question), Action  (the  “big” problem for students  to work  on),  and Consolidate/Debrief (taking up the problem as a class, sharing  various students’  solutions, assigning a similar  problem so that students  can apply their  new  math  skills).
  • Tell your students  what  you’re  up to: It’s good for them  to see you as a life-long learner, and they will become  your biggest champions as you slog through  the failures  and successes  of your little experiment!
  • Take some  time  at the end of your unit to celebrate  the things  that went  well, and reflect  on why  some  things  may not have gone so well  (and  what  you might  do differently next time). Consider asking  your students  which  method of learning math  they prefer  and why; this can provide  clues for improving future  instruction.
  • Share your work  with  others,  and ask them  to share  their  work  with  you. Although we found  that a lot of our own  learning came  from  developing the lessons  and units  ourselves,  we were constantly aware  of the time  crunch  many teachers – including ourselves  – face,  and were  always  grateful  to get a great idea from  somewhere else that we could  easily  incorporate into our classrooms.


photo of computer desktop on projection screen

It’s an unusual experience for the children of the First Nations School (FNS) in Toronto’s downtown east end to have a bearskin, with the animal’s head still attached, spread out in their room.

photo of students in classroom working on computers

The New Media Consortium’s 2011 Horizon Report,  which examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, fo