Teaching math in the primary grades can be life changing for your students and you. Yes, I am shocked how often I hear grade one students share how they “hate” math. How can that happen so soon in their learning? What happened the year before? Well, despite that, we have the opportunity to change their opinion.

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Whether you are new to teaching or a veteran, teaching numeracy is a life skill. This can add to our stress of making sure we do it right. It all starts with having a solid math program. This guide is a starting point, a “let’s get started” approach to help you provide your students a comprehensive math experience and also help them learn concrete skills.

## Table of Contents

- How Do I Start?
- What Do I Need?
- What About Standards?
- What About Textbooks?
- Assessing and Pretests
- The Value of Picture Books
- Your Next Step

## How Do I Start?

Much like teaching any subjects in school, teaching math in primary begins with planning. Do not skip or skimp this part! There are mainly 7 components to math (that number will depend on the standards you are following). With each component, you will need to plan:

- theme, main ideas, standards
- resources and materials
- activities, especially hands-on
- observations/assessments

If you would like to see a specific math unit planned, visit the blog post on “Unit Planning: My Financial Literacy Unit“. Want to see a more general way to unit plan? Visit the blog post on “Unit Planning” (there are 3 parts!).

It is important to know the end result of teaching, regardless of the subject. What is the objective? What is your deep wish for your class/students? For me, it’s about understanding key math concepts, seeing all the math in our world and having fun with math!

## What Do I Need?

If you are starting with nothing, get yourself a planner or notebook/paper/binder, etc for keeping your math curriculum, assessments, etc. Depending on your grade, you will not be able to keep all your math in a binder, unless you are going to upload it online (for example, Google Drive). I am more of a paper planner, so I have 1 math binder for my general information, and then I have about nine more that each hold a math unit (for example, number sense, number printing, measurement, addition and subtraction, time, financial literacy, word problems, graphing, and math games.

After you have your planning in place, you will need your units. Some school districts will provide you with math curriculums to use. Over the years, there have been many that I’ve seen and used. Let me tell, I never found a perfect one. Every single one, I needed to supplement somehow. If you have a perfect curriculum, please let me know!

### When Your District Provides Nothing For Teaching Primary Math

Sadly, you will come across school districts that expect you to create your own math curriculum. This happened to me during my 2nd year of teaching. I took a math workbook and heavily supplemented it. If you are new to teaching, writing math units take a lot of time. There are some decent math curriculums available on Teachers Pay Teachers. I wouldn’t buy a full curriculum **right away**. I would buy one unit and see if I like this teacher’s style and how they explain everything. NOTE: If you purchase one unit that is part of a BUNDLE, if you decide to buy the BUNDLE **within a year**, TPT will refund you the difference (but you need to contact them).

- Do they have lesson plans?
- Do they have a variety of lessons?
- Are there a variety of materials needing to be purchased?
- Does the unit contain assessments and games?
- Does the unit contain math centers?

It is extremely important that your program incorporates the learning styles of your students. The 4 basic learning styles to consider are:

- visual
- auditory
- kinesthetic
- reading/writing

Many teacher will use two: auditory and reading/writing. But math is so much more than that. They need to see/visualize the math concepts. At the younger ages, they need to touch the blocks, clocks, coins, bears, etc.

If you have a colleague with math experience, ask them their recommendations for a math curriculum. Maybe they will let you borrow a unit (which you will return when finished). Many of my colleagues have suggested excellent resources over the years.

### Manipulatives/Resources

If you want a comprehensive math program, you will need materials or manipulatives, especially when teaching primary math. Children need to touch stuff (some adults too)! If you consider the different learning styles of our children, visual learners will be over half of your population.

Now, you don’t want to necessarily teach to the learning style of your students, but consider the best approach to the content you are teaching. Much of primary math is best taught visually and kinesthetically.

There are many places to can go to, in order to purchase manipulatives for your classroom. But start with your school! Most schools have resource rooms where you can “borrow” materials. Sometimes you will enter a new classroom (for you) and there will be materials already in the room (yippee!).

### Materials to get you started

If you are new to teaching, here are some manipulatives you should have (or borrow) for your classroom:

- pattern blocks (lots)
- counting bears – these come in different sizes and weights – I primarily use the same size bears
- mini whiteboards – I use the double sided – plain/lines – this is a class set of 25
- ten frames – these are the magnetic ones
- 100 chart – there are lots – choose one that fit with your class colors
- playing cards – ask friends – most people have extras
- dominoes – this is a set of double nines. I also have a class set – little bags of dominoes that go to double sixes
- money/coins (US), and money (CAD)
- double sided chips – bingo, counting

Your school may have accounts with Hand2Mind, Learning Resources, Scholastics, Education Station (Canada), Wintergreen Learning Materials (Canada), Lakeshore Learning. Check with your school before making purchases. Your first year of teaching can be expensive so save money where you can.

There are specific learning standards where children need to show 1:1 correspondence with counting and touching an object.

## What About Standards?

For most schools, you are hired to teach to the learning standards, whether that is a private, public, charter, or independent school. Knowing the standards will save you a lot of time in the long run, especially when you are writing/creating units. If you do not know them, you need to know where to find them as you will look at them regularly.

### Common Core and Teaching Math in Primary

In the US, Common Core was prevalent in the school districts. Common Core focuses on Literacy and Numeracy only. The latest stats say 41/50 states have adopted Common Core, but there is a growing frustration with them and some states are opting out. When you meet with your admin or are interviewing for a position, ask what they use.

Here is a screenshot of the Common Core Math standards for kindergarten.

As you can see, standards are given without much details. Find your curriculum coordinate in the school for more ideas on how to approach and use them.

In Canada, we have no nation wide curriculum. Each province sets their curriculum and most, if not all of them, can be found online. For example, here is the Grade 1 Math Curriculum for British Columbia.

Most state/provincial standards have their big objectives and their little objectives. You will find themes, unit ideas, skills that students should acquire for the school term/year.

What standards will NOT tell you, is how to teach. This is where some teacher autonomy comes in. If your school/school district has a union, teacher autonomy will be written into the language of the contract.

## What About Textbooks?

When I first started teaching, there were lots of textbooks, especially for grades two and higher. For kindergarten and grade one, we were encouraged to “play” with subjects. I struggled teaching math. Our learning standards listed concrete skills but we were to teach them abstractly. What? Why?

Now with the cutbacks in funding, many grades are without textbooks. Some school districts have purchased some online math curriculums. This is good but working in schools where there is not enough technology or wifi capabilities, hampers the online options. Having worked online during the pandemic was ridiculous – almost every day there were wifi issues (deep sigh).

### Primary Textbooks

There are still some good primary math textbooks in the world worth looking at. When working with homeschoolers, the top choice was Saxon Math. It is dense but it is thorough with teaching the skills. Make sure you have the manipulatives to go with this program (If you would like a review of this product, let me know).

Other math programs that I saw in action were:

- Horizons Math – Christian-based for homeschoolers, it can also work in classroom
- Math-U-See – manipulatives focused
- Jump Math (Canada) – cyclical learning

Do you use a textbook or does your school have textbooks that they recommend? No one textbook will be complete enough to help you teach every learning standard, so this is where you will need to supplement.

## Assessing and Pre-tests While Teaching Math in Primary

When it comes to writing reports on your students, proper assessments are key. Though the days of giving students an end-of-unit test are not gone, these tests have been proven to be ineffective and inaccurate with showing student learning. Why? Because at the younger grades, students do not articulate or express themselves in written form. If you give kindergarten students a word filled paper test and expect them all to complete it, you will have a lot of tears (you can include yourself in that scenario). Variety is especially important.

### What Type of Assessments Should You Use When Teaching Math in the Primary Grades?

Just as we will have different learning styles in the classroom, we will have different ways that students will express and show their learning. This list is not exhaustive, but these will provide you with a lot of information to report on student learning and inform parents.

- observations
- video
- oral discussions, lots of dialogue
- task cards, hands-on activities
- self checking activities (Boom Cards!)
- projects
- yes, a short worksheet can be used

As well, you will need a binder or folder or online folder to house all these assessments. A few years ago, I started using 3×5 cards and taped them into a file folder. This works great if you have more than 1 teacher in the room.

## The Value of Picture Books

When I started teaching, I had no idea that value of picture books when teaching math, especially in primary grades. I had used pictures books with teaching literacy and social studies units. I began to see all the cool math stories available, I spent a bit of money to get those books into my room. Even the school library didn’t have a lot of math picture books (I still continue to share them with librarians)!

### When using picture books with math:

- look for books that feature different strategies or approaches to a math concept
- find picture books that are relevant to the math concept you are teaching
- use books that show real-world problems or context with the math concept

For further reading on Using Picture Books to further Mathematical Thinking, this article from Edutopia is worth reading.

Let’s go back to the Financial Literacy unit (mentioned above). What books do I use for that unit?

Choose books that are both fiction and non-fiction.

- Canadian Coins – students learn some background on the coins and how they are made (older book – I get it from the library)
- National Geographic Kids – Everything Money (not shown) This actually features money about the US and other countries
- Save it – this is part of a trilogy on personal financial literacy – saving, spending, earning
- Lemonade in Winter – how much it costs to have your own store
- Those Shoes – the pressure to have the same shoes/stuff as your friends and others
- When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree – sometimes getting something we ask for is perfect

I often check the school library and local library (before I buy) as you want to read the book first.

## Your Next Step

The next step is always, get started! Your students do not know what you are about to teach or how you are going to teach. Experiment. Try different ways to teach your kiddos. Your admin probably wants a year-long plan. Make it and get into your first unit. It is okay if you are working one month, one week or even a day or two of your actual teaching. That happens if you are a new teacher or new to the grade.

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There is so much more with teaching math in the primary grades! You can find more blog posts on math and primary grades teaching!

If you need help with using math stations or rotations in your math program, I have a series on Teaching Math Like A Boss you can read next.

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