Our Top Tips For Teaching Maths Online: How To Keep Your Pupils Learning At Home
With schools shut down by COVID-19, teachers and SLT alike have been looking for alternative ways of teaching in this new paradigm, with online teaching one of the possible options.
But if you’re new to online teaching – whether it’s through a meeting programme like Zoom or a dedicated piece of online teaching software – it can be difficult to be sure that you’re having a similar impact to the traditional classroom.
At Third Space Learning, our specialist tutors deliver thousands of online 1-to-1 maths lessons to schools across the UK. Because the teaching is online, it’s meant our schools have been able to continue their sessions at home whilst schools are closed.
And, with more than six years’ worth of experience training our tutors to teach online, we’ve had plenty of time to establish what works. So, to help schools in these uncertain times, we’ve put together our top tips to teach maths online.
Holistic development of the pupil: Our view on what student success looks like
Our tutor training programme covers three major domains to learning:
- Cognitive – making associations between new and known information (the traditionally accepted ‘thinking’ in learning.
- Metacognitive – thinking about your own thought processes.
- Affective – related to your emotions and motivations around learning.
We believe that these three domains have to be developed together to maximise pupil learning, as they all have an impact on how much a pupil will learn. In many ways, it is difficult to achieve development in one without developing the others.
For example if your pupil is in a bad mood or very upset (i.e. their affective domain is off-tilt), it will be more difficult for them to achieve cognitive and metacognitive success as they may not engage with the content.
We can simplify our understanding of the three domains by categorising them into two buckets: ‘attainment’ and ‘attitude’.
Both buckets are equally important to ensure pupils can learn to the best of their ability, even if the methods we use to develop them may be different.
Our Curriculum Design Team (all former teachers) created a tutor training programme with this philosophy in mind, so that our tutors effectively address all three learning domains, even through an online medium.
Because the Team also design our maths lessons, they can weave this philosophy into their structure, ensuring that it’s reinforced by what pupils are actively learning.
Top Tip for Online Maths Lessons in the Affective Domain: Make the Work Meaningful
When you’re teaching in the classroom it can be easy to keep pupils engaged with a topic; there are plenty of activities that will provide them with a visual or physical stimulus to draw them in.
It’s a little more difficult online. Your pool of activities is smaller, as are the ways in which pupils can interact with them (and with one another).
To combat this, we encourage you to add more context into your lessons. Embed the learning in real-world applications, related to what pupils might encounter at home.
This is particularly useful in upper Key Stage 2; older students may be more keen to engage with material when they understand how their learning is relevant to their everyday lives.
Of course traditional lessons can only go so far in this respect, but the current circumstances do lend themselves to trying out some other learning methods.
Now might be the time to assign students short projects for the maths topic they’re learning, touching on what’s going on at home.
Or if they’re likely to be staying close to a screen most of the time, consider Webquests – online inquiry-based learning tasks that have pupils going through the process of encountering, researching and solving a problem all online, embedding learning all the while.
Read more on how pupils’ attitudes to maths can affect learning: How Students’ Attitude Towards Maths Can Affect Lesson Outcomes And Their Confidence In Maths
Or if you’d like to learn more about how Third Space Learning could help your pupils become better, more confident learners, call 0203 771 0095 or book a demo today.
Top Tips for Online Maths Lessons in The Cognitive and Metacognitive Domains
Teaching online provides another wrinkle to the learning process that isn’t normally encountered in the classroom – how to assess pupil progress.
With classwork and homework both more difficult to set up (and to some extent enforce), many of your usual methods of checking that pupils have understood the topic being covered are lost.
Not to mention that you’ll likely have to contend with variable attendance, meaning pupils will often have very different levels of understanding – even more so than their attainment groups may have led you to expect.
But this environment does have its positives. You can now focus more closely on each child, and find more time to work one-on-one with them to recognise their strengths and weaknesses and help them develop.
This means you can more easily work through the Assessment for Learning (AfL) cycle with each pupil:
To achieve this AfL cycle and therefore effectively impact the cognitive and metacognitive domains, here are our top tips.
Verbalise everything, and encourage pupils to do the same
Unless you’re only using video calling software, you’re likely to need to share your screen with your pupil(s) while teaching online. This means both you and they will be unable to pick up on the sorts of visual cues you’re used to.
You’ll need to be able to work out when a pupil is struggling through other means, primarily by listening.
To facilitate this, increase how verbal both you and your pupil(s) are. Third Space tutors spend a significant amount of time in lessons asking probing and prompting questions of pupils to better gauge their level of understanding, and their thought processes. We also provide prompting questions in lesson slides to achieve much the same.
Verbalising in this way also encourages greater metacognition in pupils; often the act of speaking their thoughts aloud can help them spot mistakes in their thinking. In this way you can improve their cognitive learning and their metacognitive understanding.
Explicitly highlight which parts of the lesson you are working on
This tip is specifically related to sharing screens or using online classroom software. Whether you’re working through a problem to demonstrate it, or working through it with a pupil or pupils, it can be easy to fall into the trap of covering it too quickly.
Thankfully this can be remedied relatively easily, especially if you’re already practising increased verbalisation.
Just as we might ask probing questions of pupils, we can ask questions to check that they’re following what we’ve just done.
However it’s even more effective to simply consciously slow down what we’re doing and find ways to highlight it. Third Space Learning tutors have access to a wide variety of tools to do this e.g. using a pen tool to underline/draw around certain words.
Make use of the resources you have available
There are plenty of resources and tools available online that you couldn’t use in classrooms, and it’s worth making use of them.
One of the most difficult parts of teaching in the classroom is remembering everything you need to cover in a lesson. It’s all too easy to focus on one issue for too long and realise at the end of the lesson that a key bit of information has been missed out, and covering it will take time away from whatever comes next.
Teaching online, you can refer to notes and prompts to yourself without issues. All Third Space Learning lessons come with a set of tutor notes highlighting the major points to be covered, key vocabulary etc., so that tutors always have a reference point if they feel they’re missing something.
You’ve most likely made similar notes throughout your own lesson slides – now you can make use of them in-lesson!
Similarly, we also include support slides with each of our lessons.
These additional slides provide tutors with fundamental parts of topics to direct pupils to if they’re struggling, without having to move away from the main focus of the lesson.
Adding additional slides to your own lessons might seem like extra work, but the benefits down the line will make the effort more than worth it!
We hope these tips will help you in your online teaching experience. Ultimately this is about ensuring that our pupils are still able to learn during a very trying time, and to the same quality as when we were in classrooms. Good luck, and happy (online) teaching!