What is Math in Practice?


“What is Math in Practice?” We get that a lot. It might be more important to first talk about why Math in Practice.

Sometimes we look back to the “good old days” of teaching math with rose-colored glasses. But did everyone learn and love mathematics in those classrooms? What do you remember about math class when you were the student? What was a typical assignment? What did your classroom look like and sound like? As I listen to teachers across the country, I am struck by the similarity of their experiences as they recall:

  • lots of memorizing
  • long worksheets
  • silent practice
  • a teacher telling how to do it
  • one right answer
  • one way to get the answer
  • no group work
  • no manipulatives.

We know that one of the biggest changes in the teaching of math is a new definition of proficiency. Computation skills are still important, but it takes more than that. We want our students to understand why math works.

So what is Math in Practice? Why is it important?

It is likely that you did not learn math for understanding and yet now, here you are, expected to teach math in that way to your students. Although you were told to memorize rules, your students are asked to model and discuss the rules. That can be intimidating! You are relearning math as you teach it—this time based on understanding.

Because so many of us learned math as simply skills to be memorized, we are getting reacquainted with the skills in a new way. Why do we ask students to count by tens? What do students need to know about place value beyond naming the tens digit and the ones digit? How can an understanding of fractions help a student understand decimals?

Do you remember this saying? “Ours is not to reason why; just invert and multiply. Many of us learned tricks like this to remember how to—for example—divide fractions. But many of us also have no idea why doing this actually works:

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We now look at old math content in a new way. And we benefit from opportunities to think about the math ideas, discuss the meanings, and rediscover the big ideas.

Math in Practice is like having a personal math coach with you all the time, no matter where you find yourself as you transition the way you teach math. Every book is written by been-there teachers and coaches. Each strategy and activity is classroom-tested and grade-specific. All of the content is standards-based and rooted in best practices.

Are you struggling with why you need to change? Feeling insecure about your own content knowledge? Searching for new teaching strategies and activity ideas? Hoping to uncover a love of teaching math?

Are you just trying to be the best math teacher you can be?

Wherever you are in this process, Math in Practice will help you become the elementary math teacher you wish you'd had.


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Math in Practice is a comprehensive, grade-by-grade professional learning resource designed to fit with any math program you are using. It identifies the big ideas of both math content and math teaching, unpacking important instructional strategies and exploring why those strategies are powerful.

Learn more at MathInPractice.com.

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Adapted from Math in Practice: A Guide for Teachers, written by Sue O’Connell. This book is part of the Math in Practice series.

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