So You Have to Teach Math? Sound Advice for K–6 Teachers


Get advice on the particular challenges of teaching math to elementary students.

Offering practical, quick-reference advice guaranteed to give all teachers support and direction for improving their mathematics teaching, these unique resources address common concerns about the K–8 math curriculum using a lively Q-and-A format. The over 100 questions and answers in each book provide helpful ideas for leading class discussions, incorporating writing into math class, dealing with homework issues, communicating with parents, and more.

This book is part of the So You Have to Teach Math?, Complete Series.

Marilyn Burns and Robyn Silbey
136 Pages

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Review by Jay N. Hoffman, Ed.D., Superintendent, Nuview Union School District, Nuevo, California, from the February 2001 issue of Intersection, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Reprinted with permission from NCTM © 2001. All rights reserved. 

Despite our own love of teaching math, most of us will concede that we know others who detest it! For us, the fulfillment of seeing kids grow mathematically is a tremendous motivator to provide the best possible teaching/learning environment. For our non-math oriented colleagues, the notion of joy and creativity in teaching math is, at best, somewhat foreign.

Confronted with the daunting task of teaching a seemingly insurmountable amount of content within a year’s time, many teachers resort to the common practice of simply moving page-by-page through the book. This practice results, unfortunately, in the treatment of all concepts and content in a uniform, but disconnected manner.

Marilyn Burns and Robyn Silbey, authors of So You Have to Teach Math? Sound Advice for K–6 Teachers (Math Solutions, 2000), have provided an alternative to the page-by-page, day-by-day strategy in their first chapter, “Preparing for a Successful Year.” The book is designed in a question/answer format, with 101 questions and answers provided in 13 chapters and 136 pages. The very first question, “What's the best way to get a handle on all the math I need to teach during the year?” is answered by reminding the teacher to have an overall sense of what students should know by the end of the year. In addition, Burns and Silbey cite the importance of teacher awareness of state, local and national standards, coupled with locally selected instructional materials.

The authors’ intent is that the book will be used as a reference and discussion guide, rather than as a cover-to-cover reading assignment. Chapters two through thirteen include the titles “Planning Effective Math Instruction,” “Leading Class Discussions,” “Number Sense and the Basics,” “Using Manipulative Materials,” “Dealing with Calculators,” “Incorporating Writing into Math Class,” “Linking Math and Literature,” “The First Week of School,” “Connecting with Parents,” “Handling Homework,” “Preparing for Administrator Observations,” and “Making Plans for Substitutes.” Teachers facing challenges in any of the above areas may just turn to that chapter and read the questions and answers most relevant to their own situation.

This is a practical book. I intend to buy copies for all of my K–6 staff, including our principals. I'm hoping that the book will provide the basis for deeper understanding and enhanced communication among staff members as they plan for student instruction and staff professional growth.

As superintendent of a small school district, I know that the high-stakes state testing program has created a great deal of anxiety about academic instruction. So You Have to Teach Math? Sound Advice for K–6 Teachers is a valuable tool in building the professional competence and dialogue necessary to continue improving.

Review by Kari Augustine, Cottage Grove School, Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. From the October 2001 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Reprinted with permission from NCTM © 2001. All rights reserved.

Not everyone loves advice, and if advice needs to be given, it is most likely to be heard if it is brief, to the point, and delivered in a loving way. So You Have to Teach Math? by Marilyn Burns and Robyn Silbey offers advice in just that way. In each of thirteen chapters, from “Preparing for a Successful Year” to “Making Plans for Substitutes,” the authors share lessons that they have learned in their own reflective practice, as well as from the many teachers with whom they have worked as teacher trainers and workshop educators. The question-and-answer format makes for easy and engaging reading while calling to mind personal experiences on which to reflect. The book reads as if the authors have compiled all the “next time I teach this lesson” and “I’ll never do that again” notes that I and many other teachers have written to ourselves. These notes are organized into one slim book that speaks volumes beyond its 136 pages.

Readers of NCTM’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics will sense that each question and its answer have been carefully chosen to reflect best practice, but the book's charm and skill comes from the authors' skill in showing teachers, not telling them, how to improve their practice. Burns and Silbey deftly weave together pedagogy and practice to both develop the reader's long-term perspective and offer ideas and suggestions for improving this week's lesson plan.

The title may imply that the book was designed only for those who are new to mathematics teaching or those who are reluctant to enter the world outlined by Principles and Standards. I believe that this book should appear on the required reading list for mathematics practicum students, would be a welcome gift for an elementary school student teacher, and will be sought after in the professional development libraries of schools and colleges. The questions raised and the advice offered give new teachers the benefit of the authors' experience and a pedagogical perspective that is difficult to develop in the rush of establishing and sustaining a classroom. At the same time, because of the practical, thoughtful, and caring advice offered by the teacher-authors, the book would also make an excellent selection for an after-school discussion group for all teachers or an inspirational pick-me-up for individual reading. I would especially recommend it for practicing teachers whose districts are reviewing, revising, or implementing standards-based curricula. This book can go a long way toward adding the professional development component that is sometimes missing from curriculum-revision efforts.

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