Teaching Math without Words

It has often been said that math is a language all to itself, that it is the universal language because speakers of other languages share it.  Okay. I’ll accept that adage. And though I believe it, I still have questions as to how this plays out in a classroom, in particular an ESL classroom where students not only  speak different languages but also have differing abilities.

In the YouTube video below Matthew Peterson explains how removing the language barrier when students are learning mathematics can improve their mathematical skills.  Through interactive computer software games that provide informative visual feedback, students are taught how and why math works.  He explains that when kids play an active role in figuring things out, they want to talk about it; sharing what they have learned helps them improve their language skills.  So, removing the language barrier can increase not only math skills but also communication skills.

You might ask how increasing communication skills help improve performance on standardized tests.  Yes, we do want to increase student performance resulting in higher test scores, but  more importantly is to increase “real mathematical thinking,” which leads to greater personal understanding, according to Peterson.   Greater personal understanding ….. well, isn’t that what learning is all about?   Yes, yes, and yes…. but what about the test scores? Increasing AYP?  Look at the results of two longitudinal studies highlighted in the video.   At five different test sites, students who used computer-based interactive math games tripled their growth of math proficiency.  Most impressive.  So, maybe there is something to teaching math without words.

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