Special Report
Mathematics

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

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
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.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

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 Opinion 10 Teacher-Proofed Strategies for Improving Math Instruction
To move past "drill and skill," educators can draw inspiration for creative math lessons from students’ everyday experiences.
3 min read
Image of a student working on match equations.
E+
Mathematics Opinion Are Math Textbooks Really Indoctrinating Kids?
Math textbooks don't teach critical race theory. Whether they connect with middle schoolers is another question.
Tiffini Pruitt-Britton & Candace Walkington
4 min read
Illustration of three diverse girls reading math books
Maria Petrishina/iStock/Getty
Mathematics A New AP Precalculus Course Aims to Diversify the Math Pipeline
Starting in fall 2023, the course is intended to better prepare all students for college-level math regardless of their major.
3 min read
Images of math equations.
iStock/Getty
Mathematics What the Research Says Textbooks Need More Real-World Math Exercises, Study Finds
A study of 8th grade textbooks in the United States and 18 other countries says most rely too much on basic computation problems.
4 min read
Image of a student working on match equations.
E+