Afterschool Focus: Integrating Math into Everyday Afterschool Activities

Numeracy is the ability to use numbers and mathematical approaches to solve real-world problems. It can mean the difference in understanding a rental contract, making decisions for everyday purchases, or making calculations for basic repairs at home. Afterschool programs are an ideal place to help students improve numeracy skills and apply those skills in the real world.1

Because Illinois 21st CCLC programs are charged with improving student achievement in core academic areas, the Illinois Quality Afterschool team has been taking a fresh look at academic enrichment this fall. For this issue of Illinois Quality Afterschool Quarterly, we are exploring how afterschool programs can make math enrichment a program-wide endeavor rather than an activity limited to tutoring and homework help. 

Integrate mathematics instruction into all afterschool activities. Making math part of everyday afterschool activities can be as simple as asking students how many groups they will have if they divide into clusters of four students each. Or, you might ask students in a cooking class to increase or reduce a recipe to practice multiplying or dividing fractions to calculate the revised measurements. Some 21st CCLC programs have combined math into their classroom management system by giving students afterschool “dollars” for attendance and positive behavior. As they earn afterschool money, students learn to calculate the totals in their bank accounts and even learn how to figure the interest they are earning. To get started, explore practices like Finding Math and Math Games from the Afterschool Training Toolkit so that afterschool staff can think of ways they can integrate math into their activities.2

Help students make real-world connections. There are so many ways to connect math to students’ daily lives that sometimes the greatest challenge is knowing where to begin. If your 21st CCLC team is still getting comfortable with the idea of engaging in more hands-on, real-world math activities, consider starting with the Math Projects section of the Afterschool Training Toolkit for an overview and activities. If students have selected an area of interest, try talking to a school-day math teacher for suggestions on how to connect math to the topic and align the activities with school content. Finally, there are countless free resources on the internet. Sites like Tap Into Teen Minds offer several short real-world math activities. For more in-depth activities, consider NASA’s SpacePlace math resources for educators or activities from the Baseball Hall of Fame. If your students are more artistically inclined, you can explore lessons that teach math through music. Talk to your students about their interests and go from there.3

Encourage students to talk about math. Talking about math instead of simply memorizing numerical operations helps students develop problem-solving skills. Not all math conversations are created equal, however.4 To focus students’ conversations on problem solving instead of reciting answers, ask them to explain how they are approaching a math problem. You can also ask them what information in a problem is relevant and what is not. For additional questions to help students describe their actions and to help you monitor their progress, explore this list of questions from a practice guide on improving mathematical problem solving in grades 4 through 8.5 The Illinois Teach and Talk website also has Daily Discourse activities and teacher guides for kindergarten through eighth grade to provide more structured activities to help your students practice talking about math strategies. 

Talking about math also helps students develop math vocabulary, another important component of numeracy. At first, students may use informal terms like “same as” and “take away” for their more formal counterparts, “equals” and “subtract.” Research supports the practice of encouraging students to use informal approaches to solving and talking about math problems. As students are working through a problem, afterschool staff can ask questions and coach them on more formal language as they work.6

Provide support for context and language. Math problems sometimes contain language and context that are unfamiliar to students. For example, students, especially English learners and students with disabilities, may not be familiar with the idea of an island in a kitchen or may not have heard of the Iditarod dogsled race. Unfamiliar terms can make it challenging for students to solve math problems, regardless of their mathematical ability. Afterschool instructors can check for understanding and clarify any unfamiliar terms or revise the language of math problems. They can also develop math problems based on students’ context and interests: sports teams, music, community issues, and even other activities in the afterschool program.7

Provide support for afterschool staff. Math enrichment, or even connecting math to other afterschool activities, can be intimidating for afterschool instructors who don’t see themselves as “math experts” or remember struggling with math when they were in school. Consider short professional development sessions that introduce some of the strategies described above through reading, videos, or presentations from subject matter experts. Then ask staff to brainstorm ways to integrate math into different afterschool activities, make real-world connections, and help students talk through math problems. Staff can receive feedback from colleagues and even practice their strategies so that they will feel more confident implementing these practices in the afterschool setting.

Footnotes

1 Parsley, 2013.

2 Frye, Baroody, Burchinal, Carver, Jordan, & McDowell, 2013; Parsley, 2013.

3 Frye, Baroody, Burchinal, Carver, Jordan, & McDowell, 2013; Woodward, Beckmann, Driscoll, Franke, Herzig, Jitendra, Koedinger, & Ogbuehi, 2012.

4 Frye, Baroody, Burchinal, Carver, Jordan, & McDowell, 2013; Parsley, 2013; Woodward, Beckmann, Driscoll, Franke, Herzig, Jitendra, Koedinger, & Ogbuehi, 2012.

5 Woodward, Beckmann, Driscoll, Franke, Herzig, Jitendra, Koedinger, & Ogbuehi, 2012.

6 Frye, Baroody, Burchinal, Carver, Jordan, & McDowell, 2013; Parsley, 2013; Woodward, Beckmann, Driscoll, Franke, Herzig, Jitendra, Koedinger, & Ogbuehi, 2012.

7 Woodward, Beckmann, Driscoll, Franke, Herzig, Jitendra, Koedinger, & Ogbuehi, 2012.

References

Frye, D., Baroody, A. J., Burchinal, M., Carver, S. M., Jordan, N. C., & McDowell, J. (2013). Teaching math to young children: A practice guide (NCEE 2014-4005). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from the NCEE website: http://whatworks.ed.gov

Parsley, D. (2013). Supporting mathematics learning in afterschool and summer learning programs. In Peterson, T. K. (Ed.) Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success. Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Retrieved from http://www.expandinglearning.org/expandingminds

Star, J. R., Caronongan, P., Foegen, A., Furgeson, J., Keating, B., Larson, M. R., Lyskawa, J., McCallum, W. G., Porath, J., & Zbiek, R. M. (2015). Teaching strategies for improving algebra knowledge in middle and high school students (NCEE 2014-4333). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from the NCEE website: http://whatworks.ed.gov

Woodward, J., Beckmann, S., Driscoll, M., Franke, M., Herzig, P., Jitendra, A., Koedinger, K. R., & Ogbuehi, P. (2012). Improving mathematical problem solving in grades 4 through 8: A practice guide (NCEE 2012-4055). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/publications_reviews.aspx#pubsearch/