I'm just not a math person!

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Hello! I'm Robyn from The Snodgrass Smart Store. As a math instructional coach supporting K-5 teachers, the phrase, “I’m just not a math person,” was a common declaration among my teachers. Teachers would express their struggles with teaching Common Core Math, saying that they just weren’t math people and these new standards were too far outside of their comfort levels. Teachers have SO much on their plates these days, so when another new initiative arrives from policymakers, it’s completely natural to fold our arms and say, “Nope. Not doing it!” Especially when it’s tied to a subject we feel uncomfortable with.

But without even knowing you, I know you can do it! The very fact that you are an educator means you have a spirit of CAN and DO! It might not be your favorite thing, but you can absolutely tackle these tricky standards!

Whether you are staying in the same grade level or taking on a new one, here are some practical tips to add value to your math planning and math lessons!

1. Know your standards

Sounds so simple, right? But those Common Core standards are wordy! It can be so hard to figure out what we really need to teach. Here’s a trick that I use to try and make sense of those LONG standards.

Start by circling the verbs. Don’t waste your precious teaching time on things your students don’t actually need to know or do! What is the standard actually asking?

Let’s look at this 4th grade Geometry standard, CCSS 4.G.A.2.

Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles.

There are three verbs here: classify, recognize, and identify. Those all mean different things! Notice that here, students are not being asked to draw or compare. So don’t spend your classroom time on those skills! 


After finding those verbs, let’s look a little closer. Take a look at the key vocabulary words included in the standard. What math skills or information do students need to know, understand, and do to master this standard?


I see knowledge of two-dimensional figures based on their lines and angles. I see right triangles mentioned twice (must be important!). So students will need to know what parallel and perpendicular lines are, what types of angles there are, and what types of triangles there are. 

By taking just a few minutes to break these lengthy standards down, you will save yourself valuable time in the future, both in your planning and with your kiddos!


2. Plan your instruction from concrete to abstract. 


Model and teach math concepts using this continuum: concrete, semi-concrete, semi-abstract, abstract. If you already know what I mean, then celebrate! You are ahead of the curve! If you’re not sure, I bet you are already doing it but you just don’t have a name for it.

Introduce concepts with concrete, hands-on manipulatives. Even big 5th graders love manipulatives! If I was introducing the first part of the above geometry standard, I would start by letting students explore concrete 2D shapes on geoboards. I would let them sort various plastic or paper 2D shapes into categories of my choice or their own choosing.

Next, I would use picture representations of the shapes and practice classifying them. This is semi-concrete. Students can no longer physically manipulate the shapes, but they still have a chance to see them and make decisions about how to classify them.

For semi-abstract learning, I would have students fill in a table to classify shapes. They would be able to draw their own versions of the shapes, but I would no longer provide them physical shapes or pictures.

To move to abstract learning, I would have students practice classifying shapes when simply given a description of their properties.

Like analyzing your standards, it might seem like this takes way more time. But trust me, it will be worth it in the end! When students can first develop a concrete understanding of a math concept, and move through semi-concrete and semi-abstract, they are much more likely to transfer that experience to the abstract level.

3. Ask for help!

Teaching can feel lonely at times (even when you’re in meetings constantly!). But you are not meant to figure everything out by yourself. You might not have a math coach on your staff or even a “math person” on your grade level, but somewhere in your building, there is someone who is willing and able to help you be a super math teacher!

You may think you're not a math person, but you can be an amazing math teacher!









by Robyn from The Snodgrass Smart Store

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