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


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
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.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by Learning.com

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 Spotlight Spotlight on Dyscalculia and Math Anxiety
This Spotlight provides strategies for supporting students anxious about math, insights on the challenges of having dyscalculia, and more.

Mathematics Q&A This Educator Uses Coding and SEL to Make Math More Engaging
The idea is to help kids learn how to think, not just memorize, and collaborate with their peers.
4 min read
Students creating programs while using laptop. Boy and girl learning coding in school. They are at desk in classroom.
Mathematics 6 Components of Effective Math Games
New research identifies common factors in games that couple meaningful play with math practice.
5 min read
 interactive elementary maths
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.
Mathematics Whitepaper
Improve Math Performance for Students with Learning Difficulties
Explore why students struggle with math, evidence-based practices to address this, and much more in our free white paper.
Content provided by n2y