Special Report

Editor’s Note: Teaching Math in the Era of COVID-19

By Liana Loewus — December 02, 2020 2 min read
Jennifer Kulak and her daughter Maureen, 10, sit on the front steps of their home. Maureen has been remote learning at home due to the pandemic.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With each passing day, the coronavirus pandemic is rerouting some students’ academic trajectories.
That’s among the many frightening but realistic consequences of COVID-19. And an early look at pandemic-related school disruptions suggests one area of learning in particular stands to be affected: mathematics.

Students in kindergarten through 12th grade could lose somewhere between a few months’ and—in the grimmest scenario—a full year’s worth of math learning this school year compared to a typical one, according to some estimates.

(They’ll lose ground in reading as well, but not likely as much.)

Those are, of course, estimates, and could turn out to be overblown. But the majority of teachers say students came in less prepared for grade-level work than usual this year, and they agree that kids are making less progress in math than before the pandemic.

Trauma, anxiety, staffing challenges, scheduling upheaval—there are myriad culprits for learning loss right now. But also simply this: Teaching math remotely, which most teachers are doing to some extent, is hard.

Teachers have had to adjust all their typical techniques for fully or partially remote classes.

They’re culling learning standards to prioritize the most important ones. They’re ditching answer-getting math tests, which invite cheating, in favor of assessments that ask students to explain how they reached a solution, often using videos or photos. They’re turning to digital math games and apps, which experts caution are uneven in quality, to supplement instruction.

They’re pushing to keep students engaged with frequent check-ins and breakout rooms during on-camera classes.

And in an approach that was gaining traction before COVID-19, some teachers are connecting math to real-world social justice issues—having students study wealth distribution or police use-of-force data, for instance, and seeing how communities of color are disproportionately harmed.

Now, more than ever, teachers are also leaning on parents. That doesn’t mean parents have to be math experts, teachers say, or that they should feel pressure to become teachers themselves during this stressful time. There are more incremental steps they can make from home—like encouraging students to do the work but allowing them to push through challenging problems without too much assistance.

And as the virus continues surging across the country, and more kids go back to being taught math through computer screens, ongoing adjustments—both big and small—will be our best bet for helping keep kids on course.

A version of this article appeared in the December 02, 2020 edition of Education Week as Teaching Math in the Era of COVID-19


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Working Smarter, Not Harder with Data
There is a new paradigm shift in K-12 education. Technology and data have leapt forward, advancing in ways that allow educators to better support students while also maximizing their most precious resource – time. The
Content provided by PowerSchool
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Mathematics Gates Foundation Targets Culturally Responsive Math Teaching With New Grants
The goal is to improve algebra outcomes for Black and Latino students, English-language learners, and students experiencing poverty.
4 min read
silhouette of person with handwritten algebra equations
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Mathematics Opinion Q&A Collections: Math Instruction
Nearly 100 math educators answer 10 years of questions!
5 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Mathematics Opinion 'Beware of Teaching Math Vocabulary Out of Context!'
Three educators share their favorite math instructional strategies, including 'Turn & Talk to Your Neighbor.'
11 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Mathematics Opinion Four Teacher-Recommended Instructional Strategies for Math
Four teachers share their favorite strategies for math instruction, including the Concrete Representational Abstract approach.
10 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."